Reviewed by Lynn Braxton
Moira Crone’s novel, The Ice Garden, set in the town of Fayton, North Carolina, in the early 1960’s, contradicts the prevailing belief that all children are naturally born into a world of blue skies and butterflies where everything is soft and warm.
Ten year old Claire McKenzie, the narrator of this chilling tale, is forced to confront her beautiful mother’s descent into madness, and Diana McKenzie’s increasing threat to those closest to her. After the birth of her second daughter, Sweetie, a darkness consumes Diana, and her actions become more unpredictable and troubling, resulting in a chain of unexplained incidents that sends her sister-in-law, “C” tumbling down the stairs, leaving baby daughter Sweetie alone in a bathtub filling with hot water; then there’s the banishment of the Mckenzies’ housekeeper, Sidney, who is the only stabilizing force in a place where everyone is at risk.
Diana has no true friends in the town of Fayton. The only source of escape from her demons is her ability to lose herself in the classical music she creates by piano. Claire has learned to recognize that changes in tempo, and the forcefulness with which her mother plays, signal the onset of another disoriented episode that could lead to more incidents no one can explain.
Determined to protect herself and her baby sister, Claire must reply upon her own instincts to avoid her mother’s wrath, knowing full well that her father, Conner McKenzie, is too infatuated with his wife to acknowledge the depth of her cruelty. His devotion to the afflicted woman only increases the fear and loneliness felt by Claire.
A rare winter storm forces the McKenzie family to abandon Fayton when power failures turn their large house freezing cold. Conner takes his wife and daughters to the deserted farmhouse where he grew up; he hopes to find enough firewood and coal there to keep them safe until the hardship passes.
The bitter cold wraps the trees and shrubs and the remnants of a formal garden in ice. Claire is entranced by the beauty of the garden, never suspecting it is about to become part of the terrifying end of the McKenzie’s ordeal.
This is a troubling story of victims, with no discernible heroes.
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