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A solitary New Jersey librarian whose favorite book is a guide to suicide methods is struck by lightning in Alice Hoffman's superb novel, The Ice Queen. Orphaned at the age of eight after angrily wishing she would never see her mother again, our heroine found herself frozen emotionally: "I was the child who stomped her feet and made a single wish and in so doing ended the whole worldmy world, at any rate."Her brother Ned solved the pain of their mother's death by becoming a meteorologist: applying reason and logic to bad weather. Eventually, he invites our heroine to move down to Florida, where he teaches at a university.Here, while trying to swat a fly, she is struck by lightning (the resulting neurological damage includes an inability to see the color red).Orlon County turns out to receive two thirds of all the lightning strikes in Florida each year, and our heroine soon becomes drawn into the mysteries of lightning: the withering of trees and landscape near a strike, the medical traumas and odd new abilities of victims, the myths of renewal.Although a recluse, she becomes fascinated by a legendary local farmer nicknamed Lazarus Jones, said to have beaten death after a lightning strike: to have seen the other side and come back.The burning match to her cool reserve--her personal unguided tour through Hades--Lazarus will prove to be the talisman that restores her to girlhood innocence and possibility.Hoffman's story advances with a feline economy of language and movement--not a word spared for the color of the sky, unless the color of the sky factors into the narrative.Among the authors who have played with the fairy tale's harsh mercies (e.g. Margaret Atwood, Angela Carter), Hoffman has the closest understanding of the primal fears that drive the genre, and why, perhaps, we never outgrow fairy stories, but only learn to substitute dull, wholesome qualities like personal initiative or good timing for the elements that raise the hairs on our neck and send us scrambling for the light switch. --Regina Marler