“The Ice House,” by Laura Lee Smith, is a work of contemporary fiction about family relationships, forgiveness and salvation. Johnny MacKinnons is a 53-year-old Scotsman married to Pauline, a second-generation owner of an ice factory in Jacksonville, Florida.
Johnny and Pauline are facing a crisis and may lose their ice factory due to devastating OSHA fines resulting from a questionable factory accident. Johnny believes that the known drug dealer living across the street from the factory ruptured the factory’s ammonia tank, but proving it has become a challenge. As Johnny struggles to keep the factory running he suffers a major seizure. Johnny and Pauline soon learn that he has a brain tumor and won’t be able to work, drive or do anything strenuous until after he recovers from brain surgery.
Unable to work and with too much time on his hands, Johnny hires his 17-year-old neighbor, Chemal, to drive him around. Chemal is brilliant but has social issues. He doesn’t particularly like school or home, so he is more than happy to just hang with Johnny, especially when Johnny randomly decides to fly the two of them to Scotland to see his son, Corran. Johnny has been estranged from his 30-year-old drug addict son for a year.
Corran has been in and out of rehab numerous times. He is the sole parent of his daughter Lucy, age 9, and is determined to stay clean. Corran moves from Glasgow to a rural little fishing village of Loch Linnhe, Scotland. Corran know that in order to stay clean he must stay away from the city of Glasgow where temptation is ever present. Working on the ferry he struggles to make ends meet. Corran has an opportunity to work on an oil rig which he loves, but has to settle for the ferry work due to caring for Lucy.
When Johnny arrives in Scotland hoping to make amends with Corran and meet his granddaughter, Corran’s old defensive walls remain strong. Their reunion adds a lot of family drama to the novel, but it feels real. Meanwhile Pauline remains in Florida dealing with the factory issues and is shocked to learn Johnny is in Scotland adding more drama to their family story.
The characters in this novel are genuine; they feel like a real family. All of the characters are believable and have their own distinctive voice. The tale is told from the perspective of each of the characters, but readers will definitely have a favorite.
I enjoyed this book to the very end. I also learned a lot about how an ice factory operates. Although the plot is intriguing, it is the humanity of the characters that keeps you reading.