Sunday, August 4, 2013
The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman
Published April 2005 by Little, Brown, and Company
Source: this one belongs to me
Be careful what you wish for. A small town librarian lives a quiet life without much excitement. One day, she mutters and idle wish and, while standing in her house, is struck by lightning. But instead of ending her life, this cataclysmic event sparks it into a new beginning. She goes in search of Lazarus Jones, a fellow survivor who was struck dead, then simply got up and walked away. Perhaps this stranger who has seen death face to face can teach her to live without fear. When she finds him he is opposite, a burning man whose breath can boil water and whose touch scorches.
My goodness but that summary hardly scratches the surface of what this book is about. One would think, by reading it, that the nameless narrator (I strangely did not even notice until I sat down to write this review that we never know her name) is a perfectly ordinary person until the day she makes that wish. Other synopses say that after the lightening strike, it is as though our narrator is made of ice. But it's really only that she suddenly shows the physical manifestation of a condition she has internalized since she was a young girl and her mother was killed in a traffic accident. An accident she blames on herself because of another wish that she made. An accident that will turn the book's narrator into someone who never opens herself up to others. It's just as well for them; she is a cold person, preoccupied with death and unable to allow anyone to get close to her.
I've known about Alice Hoffman's writing since I first saw the film "Practical Magic" adapted from Hoffman's book of the same name. As much as I enjoy that movie, along the years, I've picked up several of her books but have never gotten around to reading them. Perhaps it was because I knew, or assumed I knew, that her books were bound to deal with the same magical realism found in "Practical Magic." Except of Isabel Allende's books, I have a problem with magical realism in my books. The Ice Queen has elements that stretch credulity but would hardly be considered magical. In fact it has much more the feel of a modern day fairy tale something Hoffman plays up as our narrator goes back again and again to the Grimm Brothers' fairy tales.
At just over 200 pages, the story is fast-paced covering more than thirty years of the narrator's life. I disliked her so much for a good chunk of that 200 pages that I couldn't imagine any way that Hoffman could make me care about what happened to her. Suddenly, I realized that gradually, without my even noticing it, I had started to care as little by little our narrator had started to thaw. Oh my goodness, how I love the ending of this book, so beautiful and something readers can't begin to seeing coming most of the book.
A word about the covers of this book: The cover shown at top is the cover for the hardcover edition. The second cover is from the paperback edition. They hardly seem to be covers that could belong to the same book, do they? Yet, they are both perfectly symbolic of this book. You must know you've made it as an author when your name starts appearing in larger type than the name of the book on covers.