“The Ice House” Heats Up

The Ice House, by Laura Lee Smith, Grove Atlantic; $25.00, 448 pages.

Yes, most of the country is currently in the throes of winter’s frosty grip, but don’t let that keep you from warming up to Laura Lee Smith’s latest novel, The Ice House, which offers an unfettered look at how a Southern family deals with love, loss, redemption, and, eventually, reconciliation.

Set in Jacksonville, Florida, where the Maxwell House factory forever singes the air with the aroma of burnt coffee, Scottish transplant Johnny MacKinnon has manned the Bold City Ice factory for decades. A mysterious accident at the plant has OSHA issuing fines that may force him to shutter the business. A potential brain tumor and an estranged relationship with his grown son–a recovering heroin addict and a father in his own right–weigh heavy on Johnny’s shoulders.

Smith, Laura Lee author photo - credit Zach Thomas
Photo credit: Zach Thomas

Like Johnny’s stock in trade, hurt feelings and old wounds take time to thaw, and at 448 pages, Smith does not rush the process, but be glad for it: The Ice House is full and complex, capturing much of what fills the current cultural zeitgeist–the opioid epidemic, class conflict, and racism–injected with equal doses southern charm and wit.

Richly layered, compassionate while providing no easy solutions, Smith masterfully demonstrates that love and forgiveness can melt the chill of icy hearts.

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