Reminiscent of Updike and Cheever in its depiction of the familiar suburban landscape, this unsettling yet funny retrospective of the 1970s creates a moving portrait of the Hoodsa dysfunctional "family of four" whose imminent meltdown is put to the test when the worst ice storm in a century hitsand all hell really breaks loose. 279pp.
Exhaustive detailing of early 1970s popular/consumer culture in suburban New England provides the context for this archetypal tale of the American nuclear family in decline. The affluent WASP community of New Canaan, Conn., is home to the Hood and Williams families, neighboring two-parent, two-child households built around increasingly dysfunctional marriages. Benjamin Hood, plagued by a loss of importance at work and a growing drinking problem, pursues an ill-fated affair with Janey Williams; his wife, Elena, feels herself losing what little regard she has left for him. Meanwhile, the adolescent children of both families experiment with sex, alcohol and drugs to find identities and to overcome a ponderous sense of alienation. A neighborhood "key party,'' at which couples exchange mates by drawing keys out of a bowl, brings the action to a chaotic climax as an apocalyptic winter storm culminates in physical tragedy to match the emotional damage in the small community. Pop-cultural references of the time, from Hush Puppies to the film Billy Jack, pervade the text. Unfortunately, Moody, winner of the Pushcart Press Editors' Book Award for his first novel, Garden State, tends to use these details in a more encyclopedic than evocative manner. His depiction of these families, however, is insightful and convincing, penetrating the thoughts and fears of each individual. And the central tragedy of his tale remains resonant, though his decrying of our cultural wasteland seems a bit stale. (May)