PEN/O.Henry 2011: “Ice” by Lily Tuck, from The American Scholar

Hello, I am Zin, and I am cold!

Mountains rise stark and desolate on both sides of the channel; already there does not look to be room for people. Above, the evening sky, a sleety gray, shifts to show a little patch of the lightest blue. Standing on deck next to her husband, Maud takes it for a good omen – the ship will not founder, they will not get seasick, they will survive the journey, their marriage more or less still intact.

Maud and Peter take a cruise to Antarctica. I did not know you could take a cruise to Antarctica! But then, I do not pay much attention to cruises at all. It is an interesting story to read. I think it tried a little too hard on the symbolism thing, and spent a lot of time harping on one not-so-new thing (a woman clings to a cold marriage; her husband flirts) but I liked it! I can not say it touched my heart or made me jump up and down or want to tell everyone to read it, but it was a good story.

Maud and Peter are older, married 40 years, and they do not seem very happy together but Maud still does not want to lose Peter! We do not know exactly how Peter feels since the third person narrator stays with Maud. We follow along on their cruise. Everything is loaded with significance, from the whales (whales! Why do so many stories have whales? Is it a Moby Dick thing, something left over from Freshman Lit, that whales are significant? Or a leftover 60s thing about ecology?) to the icebergs to the saloon. And the seals who are dangerous, and wallow in blood on the ice. And the story of the lady who almost got left behind because she hid when it was time to go – and Maude wonders why she would do that. And the “darkly handsome” French first officer! They both have something to do with him, Maud and Peter do. First, Maud notices him, in a sea of Norwegians! She does not flirt or anything even close. But she notices! Peter notices the “much younger” (it is the “much” that makes it significant) wife of a forgotten college classmate, and starts flirting with her. But Maud realizes the much-younger-wife is at the same time flirting with the French first officer across the room! Poor Peter. Then Peter gets lost that night, and Maud wakes up and he is just gone! She goes looking for him and ends up in the control room, where everyone ignores her because they are steering around an iceberg. Yes, this is very loaded with significance! Danger! Ice! Blood! Seals! Being ignored! Young women and French first officers! Steering through safely!

But the key is the last few paragraphs, where his “bantering tone” returns – meaning he is depressed or hiding something from her. She told us this earlier. I think he is not hiding it very well, but it does not matter because she is observant and knows about the much-younger-wife. And of course he can not complain that the much-younger wife preferred the darkly-handsome French first officer to him! At least not to his wife!

This is literary chick lit, I think. High-end, very literary chick-lit, about how a woman feels when she is married to a flirt for 40 years. In the Contributor Notes, the author says she took a cruise where some of the things in the story actually happened.


3 responses to “PEN/O.Henry 2011: “Ice” by Lily Tuck, from The American Scholar

  1. Pingback: Food Network Star 2011 Episode 4: Cougar Town and Paula Deen « A Just Recompense

    • Hmmm… well, let me quote the Contributor Notes Lily Tuck wrote on page 368:

      “My husband and I did take a cruise to Antarctica, and since I am both a pessimist and a contrarian, I imagined the worst: the boat hitting an iceberg, sinking, my husband falling overboard, drowning. As it turned out, we had a very happy time and, except for the books, the clock, and the bottle of sleeping pills, everything that was neatly stacked on our nightstand falling pell-mell to the cabin floor and the obnoxious fellow passenger whose goal it was to drive a golf ball in every country of the world, nothing bad happened. Antarctica is stark and desolate, and despite the presence of birds, penguins, penguins, and seals as well as the unexpected beautiful blues of the icebergs, one cannot help but be struck by how insignificant and intrusive the appearance of human beings is in that predominantly white landscape, and I wanted to try to describe how this strange and vaguely hostile environment might affect a long-married couple.”

      So I think they happened to her, yes? But of course the books, clock, and sleeping pills are what really got happened to. I do not know. It is all very metaphysical to consider if they happened to her or saw them happen!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s