The Ice Storm skillfully depicts a New England family’s dysfunction in the midst of a catastrophic winter storm. Set in 1973, each Hood family member gambles their family’s health, safety, and emotional welfare in exchange for short-term satisfaction. Rick Moody’s use of both mood and tone creates a depressing (I don’t mean bad) novel that shines a light on the collateral damage caused by alcoholism, adultery, and loveless households.
More than a Storm Brewing
The family’s issues come to a head when the Hood parents attend a swinger party on the eve of a horrendous ice storm. The storm immobilizes the suburban families of New Canaan, Connecticut. Both partygoers and those left at home end up trapped in places they didn’t want to be and alongside people they’d rather avoid. Told in a series of vignettes, the novel alternates its point of view between members of the Hood family. The book’s structure creates a convenient read, with each section taking no more than a half hour each.
Moody Writes a Character-Driven Novel
Moody creates complex characters and high-conflict, human moments The novel feels natural, feels grounded in realism, yet still feels unexpected. The cataclysmic revelations that follow the storm’s tumultuous arrival force the members of the Hood family to reevaluate how much they love and/or hate their family.
The All-Too-Self-Aware Hood Family
The Hood family of four has a lot going on. Benjamin Hood’s alcoholism only narrowly outstrips his predisposition towards adultery. But Moody builds out his character in a way that avoids stereotypes of the Big Bad Dad. He tries to conquer his demons (sometimes), making him more sympathetic than one might expect. Elena Hood, meanwhile, could have easily been the wronged wife in the hands of lesser authors. Instead she comes off as emotional distant. She can’t be exonerated from her family members’ misbehavior. Like her husband, she also had moments in the book that get the audience back on her side.
The daughter Wendy negotiates a tough home and school life with her budding teenagedom. She’s often contradictory, and surprising. Instead of causing narrative dissonance, her portrayal captures how a teenage girl might act when coming of age in a difficult family.
The son Paul uses every drug he can get his hands on to numb his growing depression. Taking adventures to New York, failing to get girls, and masturbating at any open moment, his loneliness and estrangement from others build over the course of the novel. Although separated from the other family members’ stories, Paul acts as the narrator of the story—a fact revealed at the novel’s conclusion. Moody’s choice to write from Paul’s (sometimes omniscient) perspective changes how a reader will relate to the story one it’s over.
What You Might Expect from Literary Fiction
Though certainly not boring, readers looking for an action-packed book should consider looking elsewhere. Moody’s prose, his character development, and the occasional existential reflection drive the narrative far more than plot-based elements do. Specific moments do not stand out in the book. Instead, it thrives by creating a catalog of images that comment on suburban home life.
Together, the Hoods fight for and among themselves as they try to survive a brutal storm’s physical and emotional consequences. A classic example of literary fiction, The Ice Storm engages the reader at a variety of levels. It offers complexities in character, action, and conflict that mirror a modern suburban lifestyle.