The Ice Queen is the latest in a long line of 30 years' worth of novels from Alice Hoffman—novels that seamlessly blend magic and reality. It is the tale of a librarian in a small town whose wishes come true, but not always for the best.
When the unnamed narrator is eight years old, and her brother Ned 12, their mother leaves the children alone one night, ostensibly to celebrate her birthday with friends. The narrator wishes her mother, who is raising the children alone after her husband abandoned the family, would disappear—and she dies that night, her car crashing on an icy road. The children go to live with their grandmother; Ned becomes a meteorologist and moves from New Jersey to Florida while his sister goes to library school, still feeling the guilt and self-loathing brought on by her wish the night her mother died.
After suffering a mental breakdown, the narrator goes to Florida with Ned to start work at the local library, but remains obsessed with death until she is struck by lightning. Suddenly her drab life changes dramatically. Suffering heart and neurological damage, she enlists in a study of lightning-strike survivors at the local college. She decides to seek out one such survivor who had been struck dead, then came back to life Lazarus Jones. They embark on a strange and erotic relationship fueled by their ability to share secrets that have kept each of them estranged from most other people for years. In her signature style, Hoffman describes their powerful desire for one another as a force of nature, brought on by the trauma each experienced both before and after their lightning episodes.
Hoffman confronts death and dying, and the significance of the "now," finally allowing her narrator to feel lucky for what she has. In her unique way she imbues seemingly mundane issues with a touch of magic, and in so doing brings her unique and endearing characters vividly to life.
Deborah Donovan writes from Cincinnati and La Veta, Colorado.