How free is a young American woman to pursue her wildest, dearest dreams?
Ideally, the answer would be, as free as she wants, if she’s willing to work hard — go for it, girl.
In reality, dream-chasing requires grit and stubbornness, patience and persistence. And for a woman, it may require something more — self-defense.
Blair Braverman, who grew up in a California suburb and followed her dreams of a home in the freezing, glittering northern world to Arctic Norway and Alaska, had to learn early on how to be tough to stay on her chosen path.
And we’re not talking about the hazards of blizzards, collapsing ice caves, wild carnivores, isolation and exhaustion. We’re talking about men.
No matter how astute and/or easygoing she may be, a young woman learning to navigate in the world often learns the hard way that some men — just a few, but it only takes a few, and sometimes they’re the ones she’s closest to — will never respect her or consider her an equal. And a few among them will not leave her alone.
Braverman’s memoir acknowledges the damage that such encounters can do to an adventurous young woman, but also the lessons learned along the way.
Its title, “Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube,” with its sarcastic profanity, and subtitle, “Chasing Fear and Finding Home in the Great White North,” with its earnest talkiness, are the only unfortunate things about her nuanced, witty, wise, eccentric story.
Braverman, who now lives in northern Wisconsin, fell in love with Norway as a 10-year-old visiting with her family. She went back as a high school exchange student, and later attended wilderness-skills schools there. She also worked for a time at a dogsledding camp atop a glacier in southeastern Alaska accessible only by helicopter.
Her dream was to live as close to northern nature as possible, to be free and strong and skilled. And that she accomplished.
But Braverman, young, pretty, openhearted and naive, sometimes found herself confined and limited by the “hard masculinity that seemed to thrive in the north, and that I didn’t want to be shoved up against.”
Two men in particular menaced her — a predatory Norwegian host-family father who molested her and a charismatic, narcissistic, controlling boyfriend in Alaska who ignored the words “no” and “goodbye.”
At some point, her quest to be strong and free in the wild also became one to be strong and free of male control. “Welcome” is the story of how she succeeded at both.
Part of her education and healing came in an unexpected place — the tiny Norwegian town of Mortenhals, which became her heart’s home after she took a job doing, well, odd jobs in a dusty, old-fashioned convenience store run by a man named Arild.
In some ways, this book is the story of Arild as much as it is of Braverman. He’s the unlikeliest of heroes, a puttering, low-key, mild-mannered, married man old enough to be Braverman’s father. He offers her shelter, safety, humor and kindness, becoming a platonic father figure, someone she can completely trust when she most needs to trust someone. She dedicated this book to him.
Braverman is a lyrical, understated writer, but her story’s pacing is often confusing, as she moves back and forth in time, and some of her anecdotes veer off into nowhere, with no point. Still, this unusual memoir will resonate with anyone who has ever chased a dream through a thicket of difficulty.
Pamela Miller is a Star Tribune night metro editor.
Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube
By: Blair Braverman.
Publisher: Ecco, 274 pages, $25.99.
Event: 7 p.m. July 14, Magers & Quinn, 3038 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.