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An Ocean in Iowa Hardcover – April 1, 1998


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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 out 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 humor 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.

From Booklist

What can you say about a seven-year-old whose mother leaves? It's 1969, and Scotty Ocean thinks that seven will be his year. He does the seven dance for his mother, who smokes and drinks and paints, all too much. But she abandons the family and her art, tries unsuccessfully to abandon alcohol. Scotty's two older sisters, and his rigid father the judge, find different ways of coping, and they tentatively reach toward family life. Scotty, however, in second grade with a strong teacher and a new neighbor with lots of toys and a dad back from Vietnam, is obsessed with his mother's absence, and everything in his life centers on his search for her. Hedges, the author of What's Eating Gilbert Grape? (1991), has crammed the novel full of small, note-perfect '60s references--lunch boxes, television shows, commercials (although no one said "big whoop" in 1969, least of all a seven-year-old). There are funny bits, but this is an achingly sad story, and no one comes out all right in the end. GraceAnne A. DeCandido
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 248 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion; 1st edition (April 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786864044
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786864041
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.9 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,915,256 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

It is so beautiful and hauntingly touching.
acook@randomhouse.com
I think it is an excellent book worth purchasing, I found it hard to put the book down in wonderment of finding out what will happen next.
Tom Caldwell
The second being that most of the characters are not fully developed and they are not unique.
Mike Boettcher

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 18, 1999
Format: Paperback
Caitlin Cahalan March 4, 1999 Book Review Mrs. Anderson
Seventh Heaven in "Iowa" An Ocean in Iowa by Peter Hedges ***** 5 stars This novel is a fantastic story about the life of one young boy and I recommend it to everyone. "Seven is going to be my year." That is what Scotty Ocean announced at the beginning of Peter Hedges' novel An Ocean in Iowa. Scotty wants to be seven more than anything else in the world and the novel takes us through all of the ups and downs of being seven. The story is told from Scotty's point of view and it offers us insight into the mind of an innocent, wide-eyed little boy. The novel takes us back to the late sixties, the days of the moon landing, A Family Affair, and Bonanza. The story centers on the Ocean family, a group of different personalities living in the same house in rural Iowa. Although the story is told from Scotty's point of view, we are able to take a look into the minds and hearts of the rest of the family: his father, the Judge; his mother, Joan; and his two older sisters, Claire and Maggie. We are taken through a year in the life of the Oceans which also happens to Scotty's seventh year. This year happens to be the year Joan decides to leave the family. Suddenly, the Ocean children are left to live with their loving yet distant father. As the story unfolds, we see the Judge becoming more open to his children. We also see a development in Scotty's character. Peter Hedges has written a beautiful character that will capture your hearts the minute you are introduced to him. Scotty is convinced that being seven means being a man. ("Seven is old enough to tie his own shoes.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 16, 1999
Format: Paperback
The simple, easy pace of AN OCEAN IN IOWA and the discretion Peter Hedges shows in revealing just enough are what make this book an absolute gem. While we are left to see the world of Scotty Ocean through his seven-year-old eyes, Hedges drops enough clues so that our more experienced eyes can pick out the many details that Scotty does not. This book is a must read for any child from a broken home as it handles its harsh subject with humor and immense amounts of understanding. Its one of those books that leaves you certain that all its characters really do exist, and what's more that you've met them all at some point in your own life.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 24, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Young Scotty Ocean isn't quite sure what he means when he announces, before his seventh birthday, that seven will be his year. But from the beginning of An Ocean in Iowa, when novelist and playwright Peter Hedges establishes a tone of uneasy stillness and quiet disarray, the reader knows that the year won't be the one Scotty imagined.With stunning simplicity of language, Hedges, the author of What's Eating Gilbert Grape, crafts a story of a year in the life of the Ocean family -- Scotty; his two older sisters; his father, an inflexible and emotionally austere judge; and his mother, an alcoholic artist - and sets a stage that's authentic America in 1969. On television, "Father Knows Best" has evolved into the motherless, but equally idyllic, "Family Affair." The Salem girl puffs seductively through commercials. Apollo II is escaping the earth's atmosphere. And Vietnam has invaded not only America's living room, but its psyche. In West Glen, Iowa, Scotty is adoring his mother. He entertains her with his "seven dance," his "kissing machine." He gleefully clutches the stick shift in her car so they can shift gears together. He embraces the comfortable predictability of her excessive drinking, smoking and painting. Unbidden, he retrieves and opens her beer, crushes and hides the empties, cleans up the aftermath of her excesses. His diligence in "being good" is worth it, he knows, because it will keep her happy and loving him.But Scotty's goodness doesn't keep his mother from abandoning her family and her art to go wherever it is she's going. And he's sure it's all his fault. "If only I had done more of this, less of that, he thought. And he made a mental list, indelibly scrawling it onto his heart.Read more ›
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A. C. Walter on April 17, 2004
Format: Paperback
This is one of those rare novels that actually reminds you--with occasional moments of devastating embarrassment, bouts of giddy laughter, and pangs of deep melancholy--just what it was to be a kid. As he proved in his brilliant first novel, "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?" (and the screenplay for the wonderful film adaptation), and his highly-acclaimed 2003 independent film, "Pieces of April," Peter Hedges has mastered the delicate art of conjuring charming but utterly realistic characters and portraying, with great tenderness, the complicated dynamics of troubled families. From the discovery that one's family is not an invulnerable bastion of loving safety to the sudden, almost-mystical epiphanies of the erotic undercurrent running through all of life, Hedges has here captured, with breathtaking authenticity, the unique sensation of growing up. At the same time, the story is firmly and convincingly embedded in a specific time and place, suburban Iowa in the late 1960s. Hedges includes a rich but never distracting veneer of historical and pop culture references. He also peppers the narrative with certain toy and product names familiar to the era, something that does a great deal to convey both the growing commercialization of American society at the time and the innocence that once seemed an inherent part of the modern world's marketing machine--aimed primarily at the young, as so much advertising and entertainment is. In the end, one finds that "An Ocean in Iowa" is the antithesis of the plot-driven novel. Rather, it is something that is often more difficult to achieve without resulting to cheap melodrama or sentimentality: an engaging, evocative character study--or, as such stories always become for Hedges, a family study.Read more ›
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