The hamlet of Ice Haven is home to the typical small town dramas–lovelorn teenagers, neighborhood rivalries, children taking their boredom out on one another, etc–when a young boy goes missing.
You’d think this sort of thing would stop the city cold, but, as in real life, most people remain chiefly concerned with their own artistic, emotional or sexual frustrations whilst the Goldberg case played out on the periphery of their lives.
For such a short work, Clowes has given us a vibrant cast of believable characters. There’s the pseudo-narrator, Random Wilder, who fancies himself to be a poet and to be in a feud with Ice Haven’s poet laureate Ida Wentz. Ida’s granddaughter, Vida, is a budding writer visiting from out-of-town and becomes interested in Mr Wilder’s poetry. She publishes a journal no one reads.
There’s Charles, Carmichael, and Paula, who go to school with the kidnapped boy, Mr Life of the Party up there. Charles is a hopeless romantic in love with his step-sister and he only talks to his younger friend George. Carmichael is an unpleasant little boy with a mean streak who gives Charles a book about Leopold and Loeb (there’s an excellent strip about that murder in the book). This leads Charles to think perhaps Carmichael has killed David.
Violet is Charles’ step-sister, they’ve just moved to Ice Haven and she’s miserable. She’s in love with an older boy named Penrod who lives elsewhere.
And Mr and Mrs Ames, the detective’s sent to work the case of the missing boy. Their marriage is not in the best state.
Then there’s Harry Naybors, a comic book critic who is a little meta for my taste, but we live in meta times, my friends.
The entire book is 88 pages of stylistically different comic strips, which combine to make a somewhat linear novel (with a couple detours through the mind of an anthropomorphic stuffed toy and the first human in Ice Haven in 100,000 b.c.)
It’s full of honest moments with very human characters, but the truest section was ‘Seersucker’, which perfectly capture the thoughts of many writers (and probably most humans), with such classic quotes as:
‘Today I must begin a schedule of focused and lucid daily writing. I must clear my mind of all distractions… I’ll never be able to concentrate fully until I finish cleaning the birdbath….After this, I’ll eat a quick dinner, and then straight to work!’
‘My life is fading away. The days speed by in a blur. How can I have wasted so much time? How much could I have accomplished if I had put my time to better use?…I have to fill every remaining second with intensive study and work… Today I will begin with Wells’s Outline of History and Sarton’s Six-Volume History of Science . From there I’ll branch out into various subcategories, like botany and ancient China… As soon as I finish this [household chore] I’ll go straight to the library…’
The ending was both surprising but fitting and gave everyone their moment. Ice Haven is definitely going on the re-readable shelf, I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys off-beat stories that make you think.