Monday, 11 April 2011

Connecticut and The Ice Storm by Rick Moody (1994)

The Ice Storm by Rick Moody is set in the real town of New Canaan in Fairfield County, Connecticut. A popular home for wealthy commuting New Yorkers since the advent of the railroad in 1868, its population more than doubled between 1950 and 1970 (from 8,001 to 17,451) as a result of its position at the centre of the modern architectural design movement from the late 1940s to the 1960s when a group of Havard students moved to the town and built around 80 to 100 modern homes. Other famous architects including Frank Lloyd Wright also built houses in the town. The Ice Storm is set following that population boom in 1973 and focuses on two suburban middle-class families typical of the time and place, with lengthy descriptions of their New Canaan modern homes replete with cornerless plastic furniture, high fidelity sound systems and water-beds. Today the town is one of the most affluent communities in the United States (in 2008 New Canaan was ranked first in the nation with the highest median family income). The town has also served as a popular shooting location for New England-set films, with the adaptations of Revolutionary Road, Stepford Wives (2004) and The Ice Storm (which shows several of the modern homes of the period inside and out) all being at least partly shot in New Canaan.

The Spotts House (built 1972), one of the modern homes in New Canaan to feature in the film version of The Ice Storm.

The Ice Storm was adapted into a 1997 film by Ang Lee starring, amongst others, Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver. I haven't seen the film in a long while and whilst I remember admiring it I can definitely say I enjoyed the book more. For one there is a lot more dark humour in the novel, especially in the way the comically inappropriate thoughts of the characters contrast with the seriousness of the situations they are in (I especially enjoyed the son Paul Hood's comparing his family’s problems with those of The Fantastic Four). This is obviously something that would have been very hard to transfer to film, not being able to enter the thoughts of the characters (though some voice-over narration is used), and as a result Ang Lee clearly decided to play up the more sombre, melodramatic and tragic elements of the plot. Also many of the more risqué sexual scenes in the book were excised - the black humour with which they are treated on the page being more in line with the films of Todd Solondz, and evidently would not have fitted with the tone of Ang Lee’s adaptation (one plot strand in the book involves a parent who brings his teenage son to a wife-swapping "key party" to be sexually initiated, with what could have been a borderline tasteless outcome were it not so wickedly funny). In all I’d say The Ice Storm is the book I’ve taken the most pleasure from on this challenge so far, and I’d recommend it to anyone with a slightly twisted sense of humour.

Next: New York!

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