She can drive sled dogs, live on a glacier, dig a hole in the snow and fall asleep there during a blizzard. She can walk 30 miles to visit a friend when nobody will give her a ride, build a folk museum nearly from scratch, withstand the unwanted advances of aggressive men.
By any measure, Blair Braverman’s memoir, “Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube,” is filled with excitement and tells of her toughness, her determination, her passion. And though the specifics are unique to Braverman, her message is universal for all women: The world would prefer you to be “nice.” Anything other than that, and you are, simply, “not nice.”
“You’re the nicest girl I ever met,” one man tells her.
She disagrees, but he knows better.
“I wouldn’t have minded; it just didn’t seem particularly true, not in this world of ice and dogs and work and men. But Dan would just laugh. He knew all about me, he said.”
Braverman’s memoir begins when she visits Norway as a child on a family trip and falls in love with the North. She learns Norwegian, travels back at age 18 as an exchange student, and is subjected to sexual abuse from her host father that is treated by the rest of the family as nothing special. A grab here, a comment there. Cruel roughhousing. She is frightened, unable to sleep at night, but she doesn’t leave.
Again and again Braverman returns northward, next to Alaska, then many more times to Norway. On each trip there is adventure, and on each there is a man standing in her way, acting as if she is there for him and not for herself.
She says late in the book: “I had always wanted adventure—wanted the thrill and the stories and the identity that came with it. But I’d become acutely aware that adventure was a kind of violence, too.”
But it seems to me that Braverman’s brand of adventure is also like nonviolent protest, a refusal to go away, a calm but unrelenting demand to go where she wants, to live how she wants, regardless of whether the gatekeepers have granted permission. Her devotion and ferocity, and her knowledge that manmade rules are not laws of nature, pulls her north. And while the men she encounters may not ever be able to see her clearly, she can see them, and they too are trapped by expectations that don’t match the nuance of being human.
Her best friend in Norway, a father figure, tells a rape joke, and she describes her disgust and sadness but loves him nonetheless. A young Norwegian man, one of a pack of boastful and unpleasantly flirtatious men, tries and fails to bring home a foreign wife, but that too is told with the neutrality of a journalist, not the petty triumph it could have had. Braverman doesn’t spend time on revenge. What she seeks is closer to the bone, the chance to touch something elemental and true.
“It was an understanding, I guess, but it hit me with the force of shame, or joy—something chemical, like the first spring sun after darkness,” she writes of returning to a certain town in Norway after a long absence. “How hadn’t I known that this place was the point of everything? That it had been the point of everything all along?”
This review originally appeared in the Fight issue. Find more inspiring stories from the Fight issue here or read Sharon Olds’ Disgusting and Beautiful “Odes”: Cleavage, Menstrual Blood, Stretch Marks.