THE ICE HOUSE by Laura Lee Smith


Email this review


The pileup of crises in the life of a Scottish-born businessman comes with a silver lining: an opportunity to mend old wounds and make things right.

It never rains but it pours these days for Johnny MacKinnon, who has been diagnosed with a potentially cancerous brain cyst just as the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has brought a claim of negligence against his creaky old ice-making factory, the Bold City Ice Plant, after a leak of ammonia gas. The fines could sink the business. Then there’s his shattered relationship with his 30-year-old son, Corran, whose heroin addiction has survived three stints in rehab. Father and son are no longer speaking after Corran’s last visit, when some important valuables went missing. Is Corran clean, now that he’s a single parent to baby daughter Lucy? And what about Johnny’s two wives? Current partner Pauline is beginning to regret never having children of her own, while his previous wife, Sharon, is struggling with her own husband’s incipient dementia alongside Corran’s need for child care help. Smith (Hearts of Palm, 2013) kick-starts her second novel, set (like her first) in the environs of Jacksonville, Florida, with this busy agglomeration of dilemmas but then shifts gear, relinquishing the sense of urgency as Johnny—in the company of a comic-foil teenager, Chemal, who will act as driver—returns to Scotland for an uneasy reunion with Sharon and Corran. Although the clock is ticking on Johnny’s brain surgery and the OSHA investigation, the novel meanders indulgently on either side of the Atlantic until a near-death experience reorders the landscape. Now, it turns out, there’s a solution to every obstacle.

Insight, good humor, and generous hearts abound in this readable but baggy saga of starting afresh, which opens with originality but closes with an excess of tidily ticked boxes.

Pub Date: Dec. 5th, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-8021-2708-2
Page count: 464pp
Publisher: Grove
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 2017


FictionMOHAWK by Richard Russo
by Richard Russo
FictionTOURIST SEASON by Carl Hiaasen
by Carl Hiaasen
FictionBIRDS OF PARADISE by Diana Abu-Jaber
by Diana Abu-Jaber