Sunday, September 10, 2017

Review: THE ICE HOUSE by Laura Lee Smith

Rating: 4/5 stars

Caution: For erudite audiences only.

That was seriously my first reaction to this book once I finished it. There are so many sesquipedalian words in this book that I had to read it with a dictionary on hand to look up new words every few pages. At first, I thought that the author is very intelligent and has a large lexicon, but when the book ended and I counted 91 words that I needed to define, I decided that Smith probably wrote this book with heavy assistance from a thesaurus. The "thesaurus writing" was severe for the first quarter of the book, but it mellowed out after that. Although, I still did really enjoy the writing style in this book and the fact that it challenged me intellectually with all the new words. The way she writes had me engrossed in the story. There were times where the story took a tangent for half a chapter, but I didn't even notice because the way she described the small town of Little Silver and the maintenance of the machines in the ice house had me enthralled and I was seriously interested in what was happening, even if it wasn't pertinent to the plot.

After having had to look up a lot of words, I realized that there were quite a few regional Scottish words, but there were also quite a few words specific to North American dialects. This led me to two conclusions: the American author is writing about a Scottish man and therefore attempts to include Scottish words to give credence to the story, but she still uses American-specific words because she is American; or, the Scottish man in the story has lived in America for many years and has picked up dialects from both countries and therefore the author uses words from both countries for his character. I am not sure which of these theories is true, if either, but it was just something that I noticed while reading.

At first, I didn't really want to read this book (I can't remember why I requested it in the first place), but once I reluctantly started I couldn't get enough. The author's style pulled me right in, as did the plot. Not to mention the unique setting. I've never read nor heard of another book that's set in an ice factory. And I actually learned a lot about that business while reading this novel. I think The Ice House was thoroughly researched, in mechanics, in medicine, and in the scenery. It felt real, like real people having real conversations, and that's something I loved about the book. You know far too often that characters fall flat and confabulations (to use a word from the book, meaning conversations) feel forced and stiff, but I didn't see that happening here. The characters, especially Johnny and Pauline, were fluid and they experienced trials and growth throughout the novel. And Chemal was my favourite character, of course.

The Ice House follows Johnny and Pauline, owners of an ice-manufacturing plant. The ice factory has just been served a lofty fine by OSHA for a recent accident that occurred in the building. Amidst trying to combat the possibility of the factory being permanently shut down, one of the protagonists experiences a sudden seizure, which leads to a potentially devastating diagnosis. While all this chaos is happening down in Florida, Johnny's estranged son, Corran, is up in Scotland experiencing some turmoil of his own. We read from multiple perspectives in this book, which I found to be an asset to the story; I loved the limited viewpoint each character offered and how the details in each person's life connected to create the satisfying revelations by the end of the book.

Ultimately, I don't think the book sounds overly interesting from an outside viewpoint, but the writing style had me hooked the whole way through, and I was actually quite absorbed in the plot. I became attached to these characters and I became emotional in their struggles. Every piece of this story is important and rich with detail as the narrative is woven together. Laura Lee Smith is an author that I will definitely keep on my radar because I would love to read more works by her after enjoying this one so much.

"I think most of us take for granted that the foundations of our life are solid."

By the way, I looked up Loch Linnhe in Scotland, where Corran lives, and look what I found. There's a ferry line that shares his name. This can't be a coincidence.

Thank you to NetGalley for a copy of this ebook in exchange for an honest review.

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