RARA-AVIS: The Ice Harvest/The Walkaway

From: Craig Larson ( CLarson@nhcc.edu)
Date: 28 Nov 2005

I had a nice Scott Phillips weekend, finishing up his book _The Walkaway_, which is both sequel and prequel to _The Ice Harvest_, and then braving the wintry weather (we finally got some snow in the Twin Cities) to see the film version of _The Ice Harvest_. The movie is very good, even though it does depart some from the book, most notably at the end. Otherwise, the screenwriters (Robert Benton and Richard Russo) have primarily streamlined what was already a pretty streamlined plot. The movie is dark and cynical and pretty depressing--I bet there are more than a few people who've been suckered in by the marketing campaign that tried to showcase this as a comedy. There wasn't much laughing in the theater I was in.

_The Walkaway_ is a very good book, too, though not quite so cynical and world weary as its predecessor. One of the things I've noted about both books is that they almost present a sort of secret history of the town of Wichita, as viewed through its criminal underclasses. In the book, we've got parallel narratives, one set in 1989 (10 years after the events of _Harvest_), and the other in 1952. In the present day, Gunther Fahnstiel, who with his wife, Dot, absconded with the money at _Harvest_'s end, has walked away from an old folks home. He's losing his memory, but still has the occasional lucid moment, just enough to keep him headed toward where he thinks he buried the money ten years before. An assortment of characters are looking for him, including stepson Sidney, the bartender/bouncer from _Harvest_, now a middle-aged businessman, and Gunther's old police friend, Ed Dieterle. Back in 1952, we follow Wayne Ogden, apparently AWOL from the army and back in town for u
 ndetermined reasons, though it appears he's back to settle a score with his estranged wife, Sally, a woman who the younger Fahnstiel has a soft spot for and for whom he provides off-the-clock security in a highly illegal "sex lottery" run out of one of the local airplane assembly plants. All of this comes together in a very satisfying and rich payoff by the end of the book. Though not as dark as _The Ice Harvest_, the book still prowls through the underbelly of Wichita and its lowlifes and predators and is a very well-written book. I immediately ordered Phillips' next book, _Cottonwood_, through my local library.

Craig Larson Plymouth, MN

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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 28 Nov 2005 EST