A Bold New Memoir on Dogsledding, Adventure, and Life on the Ice

One of Blair Braverman’s Husky pups staging a mock book promo interview. 

“Boys’ coming of age stories are about going out into the world and finding adventure, and finding their place. Girls’ coming of age stories tend to be about going into the world and discovering that it’s dangerous in new ways for them. Ice Cube is a combination of both of those.”

The interview in which author Blair Braverman made these comments was typical of the kind female memoirists experience all too often: Rather than focusing on the richness, beauty, and depth of her new book, Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube: Chasing Fear and Finding Home in the Great White North, the interview was instead dominated by questions about Braverman’s appearance and romantic status. The interview was unusual, however, in that it was conducted by husky puppies.

One of Braverman’s sled dogs has recently given birth, and Braverman satirized sexist interview questions by drawing them as speech bubbles emerging from a litter of squealing, snuffling puppies. The context almost distracts from the maddening nature of the questions—almost.

Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube is—to use a synopsis simple enough for even the husky puppies and some human reviewers to understand—about Braverman’s early infatuation with the North and how that infatuation turned into a deep and sustaining love. Writing of her childhood in sunny California, Braverman remembers that, once, “it had snowed in Davis, a veil over the grass that dissolved by midmorning, and the whole world seemed foreign, thrilling: the north was like that, a thousandfold.”

So is Braverman’s writing. Her vision crystallizes chaotic and overwhelming experiences into telling moments and images. Without banishing any of the lingering mystery or trauma of the events she depicts, she casts a slender but brilliant light on her past. Of her first experience on a dogsled, Braverman writes, “The dogs flowed, a perfect thrilling engine….Their running had nothing to do with me. They wouldn’t have stopped if I’d asked them to.” Of deciding to take a job at an Alaskan company that catered to tourists craving sled dog adventures, she recalls, “I pictured myself atop an icefield, surrounded by huskies, impressing tourists day after day until their idea of me eclipsed who I actually was.”

Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube is a stunning book in many ways, not least of all in its ability to harness immediacy and depth. We feel, acutely, the moments and images Braverman shares with us, but we also take in the years of perspective, of carefully honed wisdom, that she brings to them. Braverman’s descriptions of her job catering to Alaska’s tourists—her work on the ice cube that gives the book its name—are stippled with terror and beauty. “Standing on the ice,” she writes, “I felt like the beating heart of the whole glacier.” But she also finds herself in a world where her female body makes her, at best, the subject of gaping and ridicule and, at worst, a target for sexual violence. The reader soars across the snow with Braverman in one moment and sits with her in the next, witnessing her fear and confusion and understanding that, in the world Braverman depicts, each experience is unacceptably fused to the other.

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Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube is a difficult book to categorize. It’s an adventure book in the most profound sense, since, as Braverman says, it contains the dual narratives of both boys’ and girls’ archetypal coming-of-age stories: learning how to inhabit the world and learning how to inhabit your own body. At no time in Ice Cube is one prospect inherently more frightening, or more meaningful, than the other. It is, perhaps, this ability to inhabit both of these spaces—these genres, these worlds, these fears whose separate shadows blend into a darkness Braverman fearlessly explores—that makes the book so difficult to fit into a genre. It speaks not to an existing literary tradition but to an experience.  

Auhor Blair Braverman

Ice Cube’s narrative also resists being pinned down to any space or time: The reader leaps back and forth from California to Alaska to Lillehammer and arctic Norway. The book is arranged not in chronological order but through the unifying presence of Braverman’s voice, which is unfailingly present, immediate, and always hinting at a more complex story just over the horizon. By constructing the book this way, Braverman keeps the reader from pretending they can predict how any given section will begin or end, instead providing them chances to give each scene or exchange the careful attention they demand. From the first page, the reader never doubts that they are in the hands of an author who is leading them into this narrative moment by illuminating moment and taking them exactly where they need to go.

Ice Cube is a book about taking on fear in a world that is hostile in every possible way. Part of this world falls within the wind-whipped Arctic, but it is also our world, however we choose to define it. It is any space in which a girl or a woman feels less strong, less capable, or less safe for the sheer fact of inhabiting a female body.

The greatest unifying thread in Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube is not this pervasive sense of fear and the visible strength it takes to conquer it. It is not the finely honed beauty of the writing. It is not even the author’s voice itself. It is, instead, the deep sense of love that Braverman feels for the North and for the dogs she cares for and works with (their occasional sexist questions aside).

In the moments when she describes the dogs, or her experience mushing, Braverman’s writing all but trembles with clarity and joy. Her sentences are every bit as breathtaking as the experiences they describe, perhaps because she conveys so keenly not just the rush and thrill of the moment but also its emotional intensity. She writes:

I have never loved anything as hard and as fast as I loved those dogs, as I loved dogsledding itself. I could have watched them for hours. I could have watched them forever. They ran like water, and I was part of it, and I was struck with the instant and undeniable thought that I had finally come to the place that I had spent my life trying to find. Right here, of course it was here, in the Arctic…at the top of the turning world. It was almost too much to acknowledge. It was hard to trust the fact of my body in this place. But here were the dogs, pulling me, proving it.

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by Sarah Marshall
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I like sandwich-centric traveling and writing about legal issues and the dancing that happens at the very end of parties and you. One time, I married the sea.

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