Cool Runnings

Book Bag: Jonathan Lethem's Favorite Icy Novels

Jonathan Lethem, whose new book, 'Chronic City,' is out this week, shares five icy novels that are perfect for a warming globe.

A Simple Plan

By Scott Smith.
432 pages.
Vintage. $7.99.

Often overlooked in favor of the (excellent) film, Smith’s great contemporary noir is set in a frozen landscape that takes on the blank quality of an empty stage, or blank page, on which the characters can only write betrayal and death.

To the White Sea

By James Dickey.
288 pages.

An Alaskan fighter pilot who may also be a sociopathic serial killer crashes in Japan during World War II, and relentlessly fights his way north on a solo voyage of death, seeking a natural landscape that will feel like home.

Cat’s Cradle

By Kurt Vonnegut.
304 pages.

Before he could face the nightmare of the firebombing of Dresden in Slaughterhouse Five, Vonnegut seemed to need to get the end of the world out of his system by opposite means: Ice 9, a synthetic element that transforms the world’s water into ice. Typically, Vonnegut seems almost jolly about it.

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket

By Edgar Allan Poe.
336 pages.
Oxford University Press.

Poe’s only novel. Containing nothing overtly fantastical, it depicts an ocean voyage beset by shipwreck and cannibalism. The ending is abrupt, ominous, and dreamlike, as the ship pushes toward the South Pole through a frozen sea. The missing link between Mary Shelley and Herman Melville.


By Vladimir Sorokin.
304 pages.
NYRB Classics.

Russia’s great contemporary satirical fabulist, Sorokin begins Ice like a crime thriller in a corrupt and gang-ruled Moscow, then introduces a monstrous alien element: a fallen chunk of space-ice, sought as a fetish by a mysterious cult.