Saturday, February 25, 2006

The Ice Harvest, by Scott Phillips

(hb; 2000)

From the inside flap:

“For most, the city is closing up. For a few outsiders, this night, Christmas Eve 1979, is just beginning. Charlie Arglist is a lawyer saying good-bye to Wichita by revisiting the landscape of his used-up life: the cold stare of his angry ex-wife, the empty strip clubs and bars where loneliness turns a profit, the frozen glare of ex-lovers and cops long snuggled in his deep pockets. Club owner Renata, a woman too elegant for the smoky dive she owns, dreams of financial prosperity and holds a single frame of stolen film that could help her achieve it. And there’s Vic. He’s got a reputation, a bad temper, and a secret worth half a million dollars. Not to mention a knack for bringing people together... for the last time. Before the night is over, the decisions they face and the choices they make will irrevocably alter the course of their lives – if they can live long enough to see Christmas Day sunrise.”


This fast-blast of a novel (it runs 217 pages) sports some serious nastiness, all of it funny. Arglist is the typical noir schmoe, whose dim-bulb notions and moral ambiguity lead him into some big-time fuck-ups, a number of them involving greed, treachery and dead bodies. Renata is a classic femme fatale with a mysterious past, who could be kind-hearted, or extraordinarily cruel. That is to say, it’s a quintessential noir tale, with solid twists, some truly mean people and an ending that will either make you laugh out loud, or piss you off.

I read this in less than two hours (there were a few interruptions). Great, fun read, especially for those who love noir and black comedy.

This became a film in 2005. John Cusack starred as Charlie Arglist; Connie Nielsen, as Renata; Billy Bob Thornton, as Vic. Harold Ramis (who co-starred in the Ghostbuster films, Stripes, and As Good As It Gets) directed this film, as well as others, including Caddyshack (1980), Vacation (1983), Groundhog Day (1993) and Bedazzled (2000).

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