Book Review: The Ice Harvest

The Ice Harvest
Scott Phillips, 2000

Crossposted from The Blue Fairy’s Bookshelf

Premise: Charlie Arglist is making the rounds on Christmas Eve, 1979: the bars he likes, the strip joint he runs and the one that he patronizes. He’s not telling anyone that he’s leaving town in the morning. Charlie’s not having a good night.

I didn’t like the movie of this as much as Erin did, but I did really enjoy the book. It’s got a bleak humor that places it firmly in the best noir tradition.

Charlie’s a lawyer, and he works in the machinery of the mob that runs much of the town, managing businesses like porn shops and the Tease-O-Rama. He’s skipping town in the morning. That’s all you know at the start of the book, and I really liked the slow build. The movie hits you right at the start with Charlie’s partnership with Vic, and why and how they plan to leave town, but for fully half of the book, all you know is that Charlie’s leaving, and he has to meet Vic at two.

The book takes place over less than 24 hours, chronicling Charlie’s long, horrible night. The picture of the town from this perspective, of the 4 or 5 bars that Charlie visits, and then visits again in a different order, makes it clear how realistic and terribly sad it would be to live like that. Of course there’s action, murder and betrayal, but the best parts of the book are the quiet interactions with minor characters, each with their own tragedy of a life.

The minor characters get a lot more play in the book than in the film, and the family relationships are slightly different, and more interesting, I think. Charlie isn’t sympathetic or unsympathetic. You go along with his decisions because he’s the point of view character, but you don’t really spend time in his head. He’s not a nice guy; he’s just less awful than a lot of the others.

It’s the story of one man’s long, dark Christmas Eve, and it was a really satisfying read.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book