Fresh and funny second novel from the author of What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?
‘Seven,’ says Scotty Ocean early in this novel, ‘is going to be my year.’ But it is a traumatic one. His mother, Joan Ocean, struggling to conform to the stereotype of the 1960s middle-American happy housewife, turns instead to painting nude self-portraits and drinking beer. Eventually she walks out on the family and ends up hospitalized; when she emerges it is not to go back to adoring and puzzled Scotty in Des Moines but to start a new life on her own. Scotty is the only boy in his class who doesn’t have a mother, while his father, the Judge, tries, with only mixed success, to recreate a ‘normal’ family life for his son and teenage daughters.
Hedges paints an entirely convincing, fresh, painful and often hilariously funny picture of family life, its pressures and absurdities, through the eyes of Scotty Ocean. This is a gentle novel of remarkable power and resonance. Beautifully crafted and constantly surprising, it explores the fragile contracts between parents and children, and what it really means to grow up.
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In his first novel, What's Eating Gilbert Grape, author Peter Hedges constructed a coming-of-age-in-Iowa tale around his 24-year-old title character. In An Ocean in Iowa, Hedges's second novel, he returns once again to both Iowa and the theme of growing up, but this time his hero's age is in the single digits and the issues he faces have less to do with figuring out the rest of his life than making it to his next birthday. Seven-year-old Scotty Ocean lives a middle-class life in Des Moines with his strict father, a judge, his alcoholic mother, a failed artist, and his two older sisters. "Seven is going to be my year," he announces at the beginning of the novel, but when his mother abandons the family shortly after his birthday, Scotty's life begins to fall apart. He blames himself for her leaving and determines to be better. When that doesn't bring her back, he starts acting up at school, and finally embarks on a drastic course of action in order to remain seven forever. Even as he traces Scotty's disintegration, Hedges also follows his absent mother's alcoholic despair and his rigid father's increasingly desperate attempts to maintain control. Dark as the novel's themes are, the writing is leavened by considerable humour and a remarkable eye for detail.
By setting his novel in 1969, Hedges is able to draw on the considerable turmoil of the times as the Vietnam war, the women's movement, and fundamental changes in the family changed the fabric of American life--even in the Midwest. Peter Hedges has undertaken a real challenge in writing a convincing and interesting story about a year in the life of a young child; with An Ocean in Iowa he has largely succeeded.Review:
Dale Jones "Cedar Rapids Gazette" "An Ocean in Iowa" is a delightful read, full of fancy and vivid imagery of suburban Iowa in the 1960s.
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Book Description Flamingo, 1998. Paperback. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # 0002257106