Fire and Ice
One of my favorite novellas of all time is Anne Avery’s A Dance on the Edge. Unfortunately, the poignancy and emotion of that work was nowhere to be found in Fire and Ice, the story of a young woman in the Depression era who returns home in search of her mother’s legacy and finds herself plunged back into a world of dark secrets.
Kate Mannheim returns to Grand House in North Dakota in search of her mother’s diamond necklace, the one thing that can provide her with financial stability. She’s been working in a New York bookstore but the store’s going to be sold and Kate has no other skills to ensure herself a living. It’s been ten years since she left Grand House, but the memories of her life there, of her mother’s death, and of her love for Elliot Carstairs haunt her to this day. Elliot, related to Kate’s Aunt Ruth through her husband Gar, was accused of killing a woman and although nothing could be proved, he lives under a cloud of suspicion to this day. As soon as Kate arrives, she runs into Elliot, and this is where the book began to die a slow and painful death for me.
To begin with, we have Kate. If you’re looking for a strong heroine, Kate’s not your girl. She spends most of the book getting insulted by her Aunt Ruth (now in charge of Grand House) and eventually ends up doing her housework. Does Kate respond to the never-ending stream of insults from Ruth? Does Kate object when Elliot starts doing as he pleases with her, be it putting his hands around her throat as if to choke her, grabbing her hard enough to leave bruises on her arms, and kissing her whenever he pleases? Nope. What Kate actually does is keep quiet and lust after Elliot, non-stop. Although the characters are following the Gothic model, they were far too unlikable for me.
More than half of the book is repetitive. Ruth insults Kate, Kate holds her tongue, runs into Elliot, he insults/bruises/kisses her, she lusts after him. Over and over. Then, all of a sudden, Ruth becomes a little more human and Elliot stops being such a jerk. They both actually talk to Kate at this point because otherwise we’d have more of what went on before. The mystery of the diamonds was resolved in a ho-hum manner and didn’t much improve my opinion of the characters. Though in the end we have Kate and Elliot soaring happily above the San Francisco Bay Area, enjoying their airplane business, it wasn’t enough to undo the frustration of the 300-plus pages that came before.
The menacing atmosphere of Grand House is well done from the beginning, but it didn’t make up for the unlikable characters. I’ve enjoyed Ms. Avery’s work before and I’m hoping to give her a try again in the future. However, what I had enjoyed in her books before was not present here, and I can’t recommend Fire and Ice.