Author: Susan Speranza
Francesca is drowning, and all she can think of is what once was: the clarity of her music, her playful daughter, her loyal dog, and the perfect love she shared with her husband, Ben. Only, Ben has left her here to drown. He has left their daughter too. He saved himself, and he didn’t even look back. As the waters close over Francesca, she thinks of love and revenge, she flashes over her life and wonders how she got here, how everything went to pieces; she strains to call out to her daughter, to save her.
Ice Out is a weird story, interspersing the events of a few moments with the gradual evolution of a marriage and family. The story is focused on Francesca’s seemingly perfect life and, subtly, on Ben’s secret trauma. But then it shifts, and we have something after the drowning, a surrealistic tumble of dark forests and troubled ghosts. The entire story has a certain lyrical beauty, a surrealism and agony that creates pictures and emotions, but it is also very weird and not always in a good way.
The first portion is the strongest. I wondered how the event of a drowning, of freezing to death while being pulled under water in heavy, sodden clothes, could be pushed across an entire book, could work with the slower revelations of a life: a love, a marriage, a family, even the addition of a dog. Yet, author Susan Speranza makes it work, and work well. The happy images, the picture-perfect family, the flawlessness of a life devoid of misery and hardship, works well against the choppy intercessions of an angry, drowning woman, trying to survive for her daughter, trying to understand what has caused her husband to leave them here. It’s very emotive and a powerful way to get readers into the story. We too, want to know why Ben has done this, why he is walking away from his drowning wife and daughter. Was this an accident or a scheme?
The later half of Ice Out is where the story starts to lose its strength and go from surreal to bizarre. As Francesca spends more time in the water, her conscience plays tricks on her (so we think). She starts to see and hear things. She follows her dog and her daughter. And this is where a believable story takes a step into a dark fairytale. We have keening, dead women, vengeful and waiting to dance their husbands and lovers to death. We have forests and witches who lost their powers, and the strange, timelessness of grief and loss struggling against love and sacrifice. Now – not to say this idea couldn’t work. But it needed more time, not the rushed whirlwind of a few rapid-fire chapters.
After the careful moments watching Francesca look over her life, we are suddenly plunged into this fever dream of an accelerated storyline, one with a different feel and vibe. The authenticity is lost, and the moral and ultimate decision is hurried. The author speeds up where she should have slowed down, should have eased us into this transition so that we could believe in this death (or after life or whatever it is) and watch Francesca grow until she can let go. As it is, a few chapters of other world led to an abrupt ending, a coming to terms that is supernatural and unearned, a total bypassing of the interior examination of heavy emotions that had previously caried the book.
Overall, Ice Out has a fantastic premise and some truly beautiful moments. It did engage me and pulled me into the story, but the ending needed more finesse, more teasing, less rushing. As it was, the supernatural shift is jarring and unbelievable, the ending unearned although still somewhat poignant in what it attempts to do.
– Frances Carden
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