Thursday, October 06, 2005

The Ice Storm

The Ice Storm by Rick Moody is good, in so far as you also liked the first novel of his college room-mate (The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides). Which is to say that it really isn't particularly good. Well-done and elegant, but lacking in the satisfaction of a) a full plot b) fantastic writing or c) tremendous insight into, well, anything, that would make it something more than an entertaining distraction. We do get a nice neighborhood drama set in the 1970s, and we do see the tensions of the trickle-down of the sexual revolution into upper middle class professional homes. And a bit of adolescent unhappiness manifested largely through excessive drug use. But how many novels does one have to read about people trying, and largely failing, to find themselves through sex and drugs? Especially when the novel is so contrived in setting and climax: during an ice storm (get it? they are people coping with a lack of feeling, or iciness), climaxing in (and here comes a spoiler) someone basically freezing to death (get it?). Unlike The Virgin Suicides which attained a degree of formal innovation by presenting a narrative of adolescent despair from the perspective of the boys who lived on the street, and who thus have limited information of the adolescent angst of the sisters, The Ice Storm relies on the hackneyed device of multiple perspectives, though the voices barely vary (do they at all?) between the different characters.

In a different critical vein, I enjoyed the occasional use of probability and economics. At one point Moody is describing the spread of "key parties" across the northeast and writes
Maybe the first key party first touched suburban ground on Long might have landed in New Jersey...or it might have emerged in Westchester...Or maybe even California...Whatever its true origin, or its distribution (its Poisson distribution), west to east, south to north, it undeniably appeared in Fairfield County in the early seventies. (109-110)
Notice the use of "Poisson distribution." The most important thing about the Poisson distribution, besides having identical variance and expected value and being good for modeling only low probability events, is its memoryless property. That is, the probability of the event occurring at a given moment in time, or in a given place, is identical regardless of what has happened in the past (or elsewhere). Which is, perhaps, the exact opposite of what Moody is wanting to say. He clearly thinks that Fairfield County acquired key parties at random, but conditional on it having been elsewhere. That is, it obviously first emerged somewhere else -- and could have only come from somewhere else -- which is not consistent with its distribution being Poisson: it would have to have an equal probability of emerging anywhere. Plus, arguably, in the moment he is discussing key parties were perhaps not a rare occurrence. All of which is to say: it is altogether weird for Moody to have invoked precise mathematical terminology when clearly all he knows is that the thing existed, and has no clue what it actually is (or maybe he just likes fish).

The economics shows up at a party:
The laissez-faire stuff was really traveling around the room. Several feet away, by the mantel, Bobby Haskell, normally a guy who concentrated on paddle tennis to the exclusion of all other forms of conversation, was proposing that unions were a kind of labor monopoly, just an antitrust problem in the arena of labor.

These Friedman arias swooped around one another like the diverging themes of a duet, until Hood began to experience the opera of economics....Friedman's beloved money supply, new housing starts, durable goods, factory inventories, auto sales...each had its thrill of victory, its agony of defeat...America rose and fell on the melody of New Canaan's songs of the economy. Songs sung by a Jewish economist and mimicked by WASPs who would have thought twice before playing golf with the guy.(128-9)
Nothing academically wrong there, and rather well-written.


Anonymous shar said...

Not a bad movie either--somewhat depressing as I'm more of an upbeat person. Interesting cast:
Cast overview, first billed only:
Kevin Kline .... Ben Hood
Joan Allen .... Elena Hood
Sigourney Weaver .... Janey Carver
Henry Czerny .... George Clair
Tobey Maguire .... Paul Hood
Christina Ricci .... Wendy Hood
Elijah Wood .... Mikey Carver
Adam Hann-Byrd .... Sandy Carver
David Krumholtz .... Francis Davenport
Jamey Sheridan .... Jim Carver
Kate Burton .... Dorothy Franklin
William Cain .... Ted Shackley
Michael Cumpsty .... Philip Edwards
Maia Danziger .... Mrs. Gadd
Katie Holmes .... Libbets Casey

I think one of Toby McGuire's first roles. Although not a bad movie--I like comedies, spy films (Bourne and Bond) and good dramas a whole lot more

9:28 PM  
Blogger Isaac said...

I should actually maybe see it: it is a tremendous cast, and it makes a certain amount of sense. Especially Christina Ricci and Tobey Maguire. Not so sure about Elijah Wood, that seems like a bad casting decision.

1:04 AM  

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