THE ICE HOUSE by Nina Bawden
Kirkus Star

THE ICE HOUSE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

As in Walking Naked (1982), Bawden again attends the dying falls--and pratfalls--of middle-age. . . with a darkly comedic tale of adultery that features a dangerously ""good"" and disciplined heroine. Back in the 1940s, quiet child Ruth (""all bones and eyes"") was regularly punished by a crazily brutal father--who put her in a pit in an abandoned ice-house to ""control her temper."" Now, however, Ruth is a happily married matron of 45. . . or is she? Why has adored husband Joe lost interest in sex? Why can't she understand the attitudes of old blowsy chum Daisy--a new widow who rages at her dead ""second rate"" husband (a possible suicide) instead of mourning? Still, despite a lecture from Daisy's mother-in-law on the depressing influence of good and gentle spouses, Ruth's goodness persists: awash in devotion she announces to Joe, ""Only with you I feel whole"" . . . and forces him to admit (falsely) an affair with a physiotherapist named Eunice Pilbeam. (""Eunice Pilbeam!"" snorts Joe's real lover--Daisy.) Joe promises he'll leave the mythical Eunice: ""You're so good Ruth. . . I don't deserve you,"" he miserably declares. Meanwhile, Daisy--amused, irritated, with only a flick of early apprehension--is disgusted with Ruth's making a simple extramarital romp into a ""roaring tragedy."" But Ruth is gathering internal voltage of truly frightening intensity--obsessed by visions of the woman Pilbeam, working on a new personality (remembering the discipline of being what someone else wants you to be), even feeling the ""healing"" of ""outside violence"" when she tends a London mob-beating victim. And after passion in Egypt on a tourist trip, Daisy will be an exorcized phantom, Joe's blood pressure returns to normal. . . and Ruth can now laugh a little during lovemaking. Generous in edgy London ambiance, with cameos by theme-echoing characters (the couples' children): marital cold comforts in a hot Bawden sauce.

Pub Date: Aug. 23rd, 1983
Publisher: St. Martin's