By Rob Cline, correspondent
Iowa author Nicholas Mizet has penned a novel of family dysfunction on the home front and war in Vietnam. “Perfect Ice” follows the exploits of Erik Thorvald, a Midwestern kid who can’t connect with his father and who finds himself in harm’s way in Southeast Asia at the end of the 1960s. His return to Vietnam as a private citizen is fraught with danger, as well.
The book’s title refers to a key moment in the story when Erik and his sister enjoy a day of skating with their father. The perfection of the skating surface becomes a metaphor for the kind of happiness Erik seeks throughout the book. The love of a Vietnamese woman — a love endangered by circumstance over and over — may be what he’s seeking.
Mizet, himself a Vietnam veteran, is at his best when describing Vietnam and the experiences of soldiers there. He is less successful when exploring interpersonal relationships, particularly the one between Erik and his love, Thuy. Thuy never comes fully to life on the page, and as a result, Erik’s devotion to her is merely a fact rather than something the reader can feel.
Erik’s relationship with his father, Harold, is more convincingly rendered, though their dialogue is somewhat stilted. Indeed, this is true of much of the dialogue throughout the book, including Mitzer’s various efforts to imitate dialects.
“Perfect Ice” is ambitious in its attempt to blend a domestic drama with an adventure story grounded in history. Mitzer isn’t entirely successful in achieving his aims.