100/365/14: The Ice Queen

I decided to return to the wonders of Alice Hoffman for my next read, The Ice Queen.

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I must admit, my love for Hoffman is a product of only one incredible book, The Story Sisters. I haven’t sought out anything else by this author. Not even Practical Magic, outside of watching Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman bury the creepy dead boyfriend and conduct a séance with the great Stockard Channing.

In my youth, my pursuit of singular authors was obsessive. First with R.L Stine, and later with V.C. Andrews. I adored the dark tales that Andrews spun. You can probably deduce from this admission that my vice is the element of surprise. But the ultimate surprise was the day I came home to my entire Andrews collection reduced to a pile of ash in my front yard. I was raised in Bible country, where disturbed recounts of incestuous desire are frowned upon. For the sake of this argument, I suppose we can ignore humanity’s origin story in The Great Book. Twice. Anyway, the point is that some attempt was made to bury  a fiery warning deep in my psyche to ward against any future consumption of literature worthy of hell fire. It was a bit dogmatist, but hey, that shit works. Right?

Not quite. The lesson I learned was to diversify my bookshelf, which is surely not the lesson intended that day. I found through that experience (and others over the years) that reading makes you an intelligent, learned person. But reading from one source, even if that source is as renowned and respected as the Bible, makes you a zealot. I choose to be the former and diversify my scholarly palate. Hence, my love of a solitary work no longer tethers me exclusively to that author.

But let’s break away from my childhood to talk about this book. The Ice Queen is about a nameless young woman dealing with the aftermath of a lightning strike. Reading an entire novel with no knowledge of the heroine’s name was a bit maddening, but Hoffman writes with a kind of poetic beauty that I adore so it’s easily overlooked. There’s mystery about the protagonist that I enjoy so much more than what can be found in the actual “who-done-it” genre. Hoffman uncovers revelations that will get you closer to the answers behind the plot, and does it in a way that you truly don’t expect.

I think one of the most profound things about Hoffman is not her stories themselves, but the way she writes them. There’s a kind of sadness about her style, her tone one of pain and despondence. Many great authors write this way. Even in humor, there can be underlying sorrow. This is my favorite part of writing. The honesty.

The thinkers and feelers are writers. Often introverted and overlooked. The voice that’s so poignant on the page is the same one we would ignore in a crowded room. The quiet intellectual. The wallflower. The seen and not heard. Yet there is an innate need for all human beings to have significance and to leave something in the world just a little better than the way you found it. For the introvert, this could be art, music, animation, design, writing, blogging.

J.K. Rowling is widely known for her contribution to the literary world in the form of magic. While Hoffman never mentions witches or wizards, her stories are cut from the same enchanted cloth. Hers are mystic, modern-day fairy tales. Their stories resonate because they serve as a reminder of hope and belonging for what was once lost and alone. It’s the orphan finding family, home. The victim’s discovery of beauty from that which thought only to leave scars. Good out of evil. Light in the dark. It’s weeping into the ashes on your front lawn with the knowledge that one destroyed copy of a book can never quell the voice of its author, and that there’s nothing wrong or bad about wanting to hear her message.

Sometimes the story’s moral is pure emotion. Feeling anything you want for that day or week or month the book is in your hands. Turning its pages and falling into the inky soul bleeding across the lines. There is life in books. Hoffman speaks in the voice that’s real for me, while you may not care for her writing at all. That’s okay.

Discover your own, live in that truth, and don’t let anyone make you feel guilty for finding yourself there.

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