Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Ice Harvest: Scott Phillips


From the Publisher's Weekly review:
Everywhere you look, trashy people are doing trashy things in this darkly delicious debut comic thriller. Set in the middle of a Christmas Eve blizzard in 1979 Wichita, the novel opens with lawyer-turned-petty-mobster Charlie Arglist marking time before an important meeting with his shady partner, Vic Cavanaugh.
Charlie Arglist is getting out of town. For the nine and a half hours he has to kill before he can leave, he visits various of his old haunts and has a very uncomfortable encounter with his ex-wife and children. We get a pretty pathetic picture of his life at this point. His apartment is mostly emply; the fridge has the remnants of some very old food. First he visits a bar...
At four-fifteen on a cold, dry Christmas Eve a nervous middle-aged man in an expensive overcoat walked bare-headed into the Midtown Tap Room and stood at the near end of the bar with his membership card in hand, waiting for the afternoon barmaid to get off the phone. She was about forty, heavy in a square way, with a shiny face and dishwater blond hair that looked like she'd got shitfaced and decided to cut it herself. 
... ... ... 
He couldn't remember ever seeing the Tap Room in daylight before, if the failing gray light filtering through the grime on the front windows qualified as such. It was a deep, narrow old building with a battered pressed-tin ceiling and a long oak bar. On the brick wall behind the bandstand hung a huge black-faced clock with fluorescent purple numbers, and running the length of the opposite wall was a row of red Naugahyde booths. All of this was festooned with cheap plastic holly and mistletoe. Around the walls seven feet or so from the floor ran a string of multicolored Christmas lights, unplugged at the moment. This is my last look at this place, he thought, mildly surprised at the idea. He hadn't been out of town for more than two or three days at a time in fifteen years.
I have a love / hate relationship with this book. It is unrelentingly grim and bleak. Yet, Scott Phillips tells a great story, and I enjoyed reading it, mostly. I don't mind reading about sleazy characters with little or no redeeming qualities when the writing is so good and I could handle the violence in this book. But in the end, I wanted something more. I wasn't looking for a happy ending; that obviously wasn't going to happen. I really don't know what I expected.


It may have had to do with having watched the movie first. We watched the movie three or four years ago, and I remembered it as more comic and lighter. Not a barrel of fun, but not as bleak. Many reviewers talk about how funny this book is... but I was not laughing. The scene of Charlie visiting his in-laws and seeing his young children for the first time in months was heart-breaking.

This was Scott Phillips' debut novel. It was nominated for the Best First Novel Edgar and short listed for the Gold Dagger award from the CWA for 2001. So if you are interested in noir fiction, I would definitely recommend this book.

Shortly after reading the book, we watched the movie again. I liked the movie even more this time, having read the source material. There were changes in the plot, but the movie sticks to the basic story. The ending of the movie is slightly less dark than the book, but it fits with the overall tone of the story. Scott Phillips has said that he is happy with the adaptation of his novel.

My husband liked the movie for the bad weather and the Christmas setting. I liked the choice of actors; John Cusack plays Charlie Arglist, Billy Bob Thornton is his partner in crime, and Connie Nielsen plays the gorgeous femme fatale. Oliver Platt plays a friend who is now married to Charlie's ex-wife. The film was directed by Harold Ramis.


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Publisher:  Ballantine Books, 2001. Orig. pub. 2000.
Length:     217 pages
Format:     Trade paperback
Setting:     Wichita, Kansas, Christmas Eve
Genre:      Noir
Source:     I purchased this book.


14 comments:

  1. I've heard of this book, Tracy. I know what you mean about the bleak aspects, too. For me, to read something very dark like this, I have to be drawn in by something powerful (a great character, the setting, something), and I have to be in the right frame of mind. I may read this at some point, but probably not at this time...

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    1. There were a lot of interesting aspects to this book, Margot. It paints a bleak picture of Wichita, although I am sure it has it good sides too.

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  2. I read the book years ago and now you've made me want to reread it! I still have it but haven't yet found it. I also want to see the film now!

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    1. I knew this was your kind of book, Col. I am sure I will reread it also, and I am sure I will get more out of it the 2nd time around. Definitely see the movie.

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  3. Tracy, I think I'll settle for the movie rather than the book, especially since it is directed by Harold Ramis, whose work as actor-director I have liked.

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    1. Prashant, I am a fan of Harold Ramis also, loved Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day, especially. This movie is not fun like those, but definitely worth watching.

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  4. I'm with Prashant on this one. Maybe if the movie grabs me I'll take a peek at the book. On the other hand, I'm in the public library right now and I think I'll go see if they have it...

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    1. Both are worth trying, Mathew, but the movie is not as dark as the book.

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  5. So not for me, Tracy. :) I'm not very fond of grim and bleak. But still I enjoyed reading your thoughts about the book and movie. Isn't this the author who wrote that book (turned into another movie I've never seen) where a bunch of hapless guys find a bag full of money in the woods? Nothing good ever comes from finding
    a bag of moola in the woods. Not that I would know from first hand experience. Ha.

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    1. I did not expect this book to be so bleak, Yvette, yet I don't regret having read the book. But I understand a lot of mystery readers don't want to read that type of story. I will keep it to a minimum myself. I don't know about the other movie you refer to, Yvette, but I don't think Phillips has had any other books adapted to film as yet.

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  6. Well first of all I got it mixed up with the Ice Storm, which was a 70s-set book and film, not particularly crime I don't think. Got that straight. I think Yvette is thinking of A Simple Plan, which was written by Scott Phillips, so close but not the same person. But funnily enough I was thinking about it too, it sounds as though it has a similar feel as well as Billy Bob Thornton in both. Anyway, probably too bleak for me, though it does sound like a good piece of work.

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    1. Phillips writes so well, but I only recommend this book to those who already know they like this type of book, Moira. He writes well enough that I will read the other book I have, The Adjustment. Eventually. I don't know that it is less bleak, but it is written in first person and may be more appealing because of that.

      I think you are right, it must be A Simple Plan that Yvette is thinking of. I did see that about a year after it came out, and liked it because of the actors, but it was dark. I did not know (or forgot) that it was based on a book. Which sounds good from what I read about it but probably just as bleak as Ice Harvest.

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  7. I couldn't finish this one...I've tried to read it twice when other readers raved about the book/movie.

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    1. Keishon, I finished this one because I kept thinking it would have some redeeming value at the end. I enjoyed how he tells the story, so it was not a slog to get through. At the end, I turned to my husband and said "that was the bleakest, darkest book I have ever read." But I did learn a lot about the difference between noir and hard-boiled and that I don't regret at all.

      We liked the movie even more the 2nd time watching it.

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