Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
Since the death of his long-time partner, Caleb Maguire lives a quiet life in Australia’s Victorian high country with only his dog and horses for company. Each day is the same. There are no surprises—good or bad—until a major snowstorm hits his mountain and Caleb is called out to rescue a stranded tourist. The late night snow brings with it a lost soul who forces Caleb to reassess his solitary life.
Paul Turner is a barista in the trendy Melbourne suburb of Carlton. He lives life totally in the moment, but a life of no commitments is about to change for this city boy. Three days is all it takes for Paul to fall hard for Caleb, and Paul returns to the city with a promise he’ll be back after turning his life around… but only when all the roads are clear.
I fell in love with the writing of Isabelle Rowan when I read her story, A Note in the Margin. Rowan’s characters leapt off the page and into my heart so believable and real I found them and their lives to be. When I saw Snowman on the Dreamspinner website, I was so excited. I couldn’t wait to acquaintance myself once more with this remarkable author. But there was also a bit of trepidation as well. Since that first book I had read tons more stories, with a variety of approaches to the M/M fiction genre. How would I feel about Isabelle Rowan’s writing now?
It was wonderful and I found myself falling in love all over again at her ability to bring Australia’s harshest landscape, in all it terrifying glory, and the men who love it deeply vividly to life. It takes a special person to be able to connect with that environment, who loves both the stark beauty enough to accept its devastating changes that can destroy everything around you, whether its avalanches or wildfires and drought. If these people, these men in this case, have their own scars and pain they carry, then it makes their attachment to this land all the more understandable and believable.
Caleb Maguire is just such a man. The loss of his long term partner has thrown him into a crevasse of grief he’s not even trying to crawl out of. Instead, Caleb has withdrawn emotionally and physically into their cabin high in the mountains, their animals and working dog Molly. He has so isolated himself that his only contact is when he heads into town for supplies and Sarah, the sister of his dead lover. But that all changes one snowstorm, when he gets a call from the local policeman. A man is lost up on the mountain and the blizzard is making it impossible for them to get to him. The temperature is falling rapidly and the “fool” needs to be rescued immediately or they fear he will die of hypothermia. Caleb is the only one close enough to reach him and with the resources to do so. The march to find the lost man and his vehicle is almost impossible in the whiteout conditions, and Rowan makes us take every hard won, treacherous step of the way with Caleb and Molly. The rescue itself is frightening as frostbite is numbing the man’s hands and the cold making him sleepy. It’s scary, the work to free the man from his car frantic as the snow piles higher around them. And its this scene, this rescue that pulls us into these mens lives and makes us care what happens to them. Both men, and Molly could have been lost here. But courage, and determination pulls them through, staggering home through the snowdrifts.
The man Caleb rescues? Party boy Paul Turner. Not immediately likable but somehow Rowan puts a spark in his “shallow” personality, one that makes you want his actions to change. Which he does ever so slowly. In fact both men change at an almost glacial rate, a pace I thought was not only realistic but necessary because of the character traits and types of change that needs to happen for this to become a love story to believe in. I fell in love with Paul, it took time but I did, just as deeply as I fell in love with Caleb. It takes time to make you think they belong together but when you “buy” into their relationship you will do so with your whole heart.
And that brings us to an element that will either make you crazy or leave you deeply in love with this story and its characters. It’s the pace, the flow at which things occur. This is a long story but it is divided into four chapters, each with the title of a season of the year. We start appropriately enough at Winter. It’s actually winter in the country but there’s also a winter of the soul in each of the men. One has given up, letting his heart become cold, freezing others out. The other? Has let life reduce him to a shallow party existence, devoid of richness of growth and life. Then we follow the story, these men and their attempts at a relationship through Spring, Fall and it ends with Autumn. We live through the changes in the landscape, and the myriad of changes that Paul and Caleb (and the others around them) must go through as well. Those transformations happen at the pace and whims of nature. It can be like watching the water drip from a melting icicle. In the mornings, its slow, the drop falling at long intervals. In the afternoons, with the sun shining with the promise of the approaching Spring and the icicles melt with a rhythm of a stream. Snowman‘s narrative follows such a pattern, it ripples and eddies, pools and then picks up the pace once again, following the path that nature sets out. I loved that about this story and pulled its slow permutations and evolutions of character around me like a soft throw, enjoying every minute I spent inside this story.
But if you like action, a sort of “wham bam thank you sir” sort of action, this will make you crazy. If you want Caleb and Paul to change and change now, well, that doesn’t happen here. Life altering changes take time, so does grieving over a major loss, one that you refuse to accept. Isabelle Rowan understands that and if and when changes happen to Paul and Caleb, its because they did in a logical and meaningful way.
If I had a quibble it was the insertion of drama with Stewart aka “Stewie”, Paul’s best friend. I’m not sure why this element was included unless it was setting up a sequel with Stewart at its heart. I would love that actually, but the drama that centered around Stewart took me away from the developing relationship with Caleb and Paul, already one that moves at a snail’s pace. It really didn’t need one more impediment. However, I did like Stewart and would love to see what happens with him down the line, with a reappearance by Caleb and Paul of course.
I love Isabelle Rowan and Snowman exemplifies just why I adore her writing and characters so. Snowman feels real, its characters flawed and throughly human and their journey towards each other and a relationship strewn with the pebbles and boulders life puts in their path. It’s the men, the people around them and the land they live on that comes together in one seamless portrait of life well lived and rich in love in all its aspects. I highly recommend this story and this author. Pick up Snowman and start your own journey with both today.
Cover art by Garrett Leigh. Lovely cover, works perfectly for the story and draws you in.
ebook, 276 pages
Published May 4th 2015 by Dreamspinner Press LLC