August Ice by Dev Bentham

DB_AugustIceWhy I read it:  The author offered me a review copy.
What it’s about:  (from Goodreads)  It takes a special kind of person to work in Antarctica. Max Conway, an ex-Navy Seal, loves working at the bottom of the world. Like any other diver, he’s tough and hard drinking. Half the year he’s stuck in the States traveling the commercial dive circuit and hitting gay bars every night. The other six months he’s lead safety diver at McMurdo Station in Antarctica, reveling in the cold blue Antarctic Sea. The only drawback to life way down under is that Max feels like he has to tuck his libido into storage while he’s on station, stashing all those free condoms for use back up north.That is until Andre Dubois, a gorgeous French scientist, shakes up his world. Not only is Andre out and proud, he’s sober as the day is long. And the days are long during an Antarctic summer. Max must choose between his comfortable inebriated closet and a life in the sun with Andre.

What worked for me (and what didn’t): I enjoy this author’s voice and loved the idea of the setting.   I also love broken/tortured heroes so I was pretty happy to dive in to this book (pardon the pun).  The descriptions of Antarctica and life at McMurdo Station were interesting and felt authentic.  I’d love to visit Antarctica (well, except for the cold) – I guess reading about it will have to do for now.The story is told from Max’s deep third person POV so unfortunately we get very little of Andre.  What he doesn’t reveal in conversation remains unknown.  The book is about 110 pages and I felt it was a little short for the story packed into it.

The author does a great job of showing the reader how screwed up Max is – Andre describes him as a “beautiful wreck”, that it was difficult to see Andre’s attraction and willingness to put him with him and stick with him throughout.    Max is an alcoholic and in deep denial about it and he’s also a closet case, so the latter certainly feeds into the former.  A former Navy SEAL, he was active when “don’t ask, don’t tell” was in force and he believes he will get no acceptance from other divers if he comes out.  The book in fact reinforces that belief somewhat, because when he does come out, his fellow Antarctic divers (with the exception of his boss) remain the homophobic bigots he knew them to be.

There is Max’s alcoholism to be dealt with – and it takes a lot of the book for him to realise it’s a problem and then a lot more for him to be willing to do something about it.  The resolution is a few paragraphs which felt unbalanced and made me question its reality – I was so convinced by Max’s early behaviour it was difficult to imagine it changing and I didn’t see enough of that change in the book to completely buy it.

Then there was Max’s coming out.  Given how much of a problem this had been for Max and for how long, it seemed a little too easy for him to suddenly be willing to share a tent with Andre on the ice with everyone knowing they were lovers.  There was no resolution to his coming out story really – the book ended with him in the midst of it at work and again, I wondered whether the flack from this would fracture his relationship with Andre and drive him back to the bottle.

I didn’t have a lot of confidence in his relationship with Andre because I didn’t see much of them being strong and healthy together and, like I said, I saw so little of Andre because we only had Max’s POV.

All this sounds like I didn’t like the book. But I did.   The beauty of Antarctica, the wonder and freedom Max experiences when he dives under the ice, the sympatico he feels when diving with Andre – they were all wonderful.  The writing was spare and lovely and I definitely got the spark between the couple.  There were some steamy sex scenes which left me in no doubt of their physical connection.  It was just that there wasn’t quite enough of the good stuff to balance out the set-up and that left it being somewhat of an uneven reading experience.  I would have loved another 50 pages from Andre’s POV.

Grade:  B-

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