Title: Living On Air
Author: Susan Mac Nicol
Publisher: Boroughs Publishing
Length: 236 Pages
At a Glance: Susan Mac Nicol took an incredibly difficult and harrowing subject matter and gently, carefully created a beautifully positive story around it.
Reviewed By: Sammy
Blurb: For aerialist, Cary Stilwell, aside from performing forty feet in the air, life holds little comfort until he meets Rhys McIntyre, who punctures all of Cary’s defenses.
PIERCING THE NIGHT
Cary Stilwell has been existing since he was ten years old, and each year it gets harder to find meaning in his bleak life. The only exception – his work. As a top-billed aerialist in a popular travelling circus, he enjoys accolades and applause, but little else. When notable photographer, Rhys McIntyre, joins the circus to catalogue its inner workings, Cary fights the attraction that hits him from the moment they meet. But a kind soul wrapped in a beautiful body has a way of battering all the walls Cary has built around his cold, dark heart.
Rhys McIntyre is on his third iteration of reinventing himself. Once a hotdog financier, he embraced his passion for photography and became an eminent war photo journalist. Until one too many bullets lodged in his body, and he gave up the front lines for the softer side of chronicling life. When he accepts the assignment to record life in a circus, the last thing he expects is to find the man crush of his dreams. Except Cary Stilwell is a cold, tortured man who seems incapable of any warm emotion, never mind love. But Rhys is known for his persistence, and this time the pay-off might be more than he could have ever imagined.
Author’s Note: This book delves into subjects some people may find disturbing. There are elements of the main characters’ pasts that include paedophilia, the dark side of religion, and the horrors of war. Aspects of the story include self-harm, depression, and suicide, and the book is set in a circus where clowns are featured.
None of these elements are gratuitous, but instead are included because they are part of the human condition, and are essential to our main characters’ journeys. I hope you join Cary and Rhys as they navigate their way to love.
Review: Well, this novel was an emotional roller coaster from beginning to end. It was also excruciating to read, at times, due to the absolute mental and physical turmoil Cary endured. I will echo the author’s own warnings and say to you that Living On Air is a minefield for those who suffer from any emotional flashbacks when it comes to sexual abuse, self-harm and childhood trauma. Cary’s life has been a nightmare but in the midst of his pain and despair there is hope, and that is what makes this story sing—the love and assurance that the darkness will not win.
Cary ran from horrible trauma and abuse when he was a young boy. Found by the leader of a traveling circus, he was taken in and raised under the big tent. He became a superb aerial artist, working with silk that allowed his body to float on air and wow the crowds with his incredible grace and style. But the lights of the circus tent gave way to the darkness of depression and despair as Cary hid himself in his trailer, nightly, fighting the demons and memories of his past. When he discovers that the key person who turned his life into a living hell is still alive, Cary spirals downward into such fear and self-loathing that he isn’t sure he will survive.
Rhys McIntyre has come to the circus to document the life of the artists who make magic each night in the ring. When his camera captures Cary Stilwell dancing on air, he is awed by the beauty of the man. But Cary pushes away all of Rhys’ attempts to get to know each other and is hostile toward the photographer. It takes time but Rhys manages to break through to Cary only to discover, by accident, some of the man’s secrets. When a fellow member of the circus family is found dead, Cary shuts down completely and Rhys is forced to concede that even though Cary has feelings for Rhys, he must tackle his demons first if the two men are ever to have a chance at happiness together.
I apologize for the rather tepid synopsis, but to say much more would be to give away integral parts of this story and, I feel, diminish your reading of the same. While this story is brutal in its naked presentation of a life shattered by sexual and mental abuse, it is also very careful to limit those passages to precisely what is needed to make the reader understand the severity of the trauma that has affected Cary well into adulthood. This is his story of coping and surviving and although it seems he is barely doing either, you are time and again reminded of how resilient and strong this man truly is despite what he as been through. If you are looking for sunshine and roses and a perfect ending, then this novel is not for you. However, if you are willing to endure the long road Cary must travel and the idea that he will require continued help after there is definite closure to his past, then dive into this exquisite story of hope and healing.
Rhys is lovely and it will be frustrating as hell to watch Cary push this man away again and again. Despite that, Rhys is solid and never really turns his back on the fragile artist he is slowly falling in love with and is desperate to help. Both Rhys and Cary have demons that haunt their dreams—Rhys has successfully kept his from tearing him apart, but the same can’t be said for Cary. What makes these two work so well is how Rhys can both accept that Cary must confront his past by himself and still understands that, if given the chance, he can walk beside Cary as he begins the process of healing. Rhys is infinitely patient and loving, so beautiful, and it redeems this story from a bleak and disturbing path so many times.
I think author Susan Mac Nicol took an incredibly difficult and harrowing subject matter and gently, carefully created a beautifully positive story around it. She allowed the darkness to have the stage only to illuminate it with truth, tenderness and love. Not one part of this story was gratuitously crafted to provoke a reaction from the reader but rather is laid out as a tribute to those who endure their nightmare of pain with dignity and strength. Living On Air is a carefully written homage to those who endure despite the trauma and pain life has inflicted upon them. It is a story of hope and of learning to love oneself again and in doing so, to see the way to opening the door to learning how to love another as well.
You can buy Living On Air here:
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