The Ice Storm – 3/5
I feel like everybody in my age group watched this movie when it first came out in the theaters or on tape. It’s Ang Lee, it’s full of famous faces, it’s sad, it’s weird, it’s dark, and it’s funny. And it’s about swingers, kind of. The novel is all those things as well. The story is about an ice storm over the long Thanksgiving weekend in Connecticut in 1973. Two families, neighbors, are intertwined through their shared spaces and the mixing of their parents and kids and the friendships and not so friendships that result from those connections. In the midst of everything is an adult holiday party that becomes a key/fishbowl party, as well as the various kids (teenagers and college age) also spending a lot of time working through their own versions of self-discovery.
So for the most part the novel itself is interesting and well-paced and insightful. However, two big glaring issues arise from this book — one that you can see on the title of this post. The writing is sometimes very good, and sometimes so laughably bad it’s almost upsetting. I often think of a Pete Holmes line where he says “An adult said that, in a room with oxygen” and so a line like the opening of this just made me immediately want to cut away from it. It’s both lazy in its execution and overwritten at the same time. It’s almost impressive.
The other glaring issue is the over-saturation in pop culture and allusions that this book makes that is both unnaturalistic in its approach and distracting in its effect. It’s not just references, even a lot of references, but several long lists of references within single small sections or paragraphs, and so rather than creating a couching effect, it’s like reading a novel version of “We didn’t start the fire.”
Right Livelihoods – 2/5
One forgettable novella, one series of missteps in a novella, and one novella with promise, lacking from execution. This is a collection of novella also from Rick Moody and the effect of the three together is that they get better as we go along, but they never get good. The first story involves a man obsessed with architecture who finds himself lounging around vacation homes and reading (perhaps living) the cheap spy thriller he finds tossed aside.
The second, which has an interesting amount promise, is about a woman who works as an office manager for an insurance company who finds increasingly severe complaints in the suggestion box. The complaints are almost never dangerous feeling enough or unsettling enough to feel like a thriller, curious or funny enough to provide commentary, and the writing itself is frustratingly, I guess, playful?
The last novella apparently came about as a kind of dare to write a genre story — this time science fiction. It’s about a writer looking into a new drug in the aftermath of some sort of calamity that allows users to relive memories in near perfect detail. This is really good (although it’s a LOT like the Kathryn Bigelow movie Strange Days in tone and execution. And to borrow from Ursula Le Guin, while the premise is interesting, this feels like a [self] “serious” writer slumming it in genre fiction. It’s Philip K Dick cosplay as much as anything original.