Book Review: Breaking the Ice, by Tali Spencer

For Matt Wasko, February in Wisconsin is the best time of the year, and ice fishing on Lake Winnebago is his idea of heaven. With shanty villages cropping up, barbeques on the ice, monster sturgeon to spear, and plenty of booze to keep everybody warm, things couldn’t be better — until a surprise storm hits and an uninvited guest shows up at his frozen doorstep.

Matt’s not happy to see John Lutz, a coworker who cracks lame gay jokes at Matt’s expense. But John’s flimsy new ice shelter got blown across the lake, and it wouldn’t be right to leave even a jerk outside to freeze. Would it?

In the close quarters of Matt’s fabulous ice shanty, between stripping off wet clothes, misadventures with bait, and a fighting trophy-sized walleye, the two men discover creative ways to keep the cold at bay. And when John confesses his long-running attraction, Matt must decide if he can believe in John’s change of heart — and crack the ice for a chance at finding love.

Breaking the Ice, by Tali Spencer

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

When I read fiction that takes place in an area I know well, I always pay extra-close attention. If an author is going through the trouble of setting their story in a specific place, they’d better get it right or it takes me out of the story completely. And yes, I may still be salty about Jim Butcher’s geographical mishaps in Chicago in the first Dresden Files book, but that’s neither here nor there.

I’m pleased to say that Tali Spencer’s novella Breaking the Ice nails Wisconsin. I’ve been to many of these places (or places like them) and I’ve met these people , or people like them. The bulk of the story takes place in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, though I was amused at the brief passage that takes place in Milwaukee. I’ve been to that neighborhood, and I know exactly the type of house that was described.

John is from Milwaukee by way of Kenosha, now working north of Menomonee Falls. He’s done a great job of keeping a low profile as a gay man in an oh-so-straight blue collar, Midwestern world. Too good of a job, unfortunately, and he’s reaching a point in his life where he is realizing that maybe he needs to rethink that approach. Matt, on the other hand, is out and proud. He puts up with the gay jokes at work and at bowling league, and appears to thrive in spite of it. When he is out fishing on Lake Winnebago among friends, though, nobody cares if he’s gay, bi, or straight – he’s at home in “Waskoville”, an exuberant ad-hoc community that appears on the ice when it’s time to fish for sturgeon, a tradition dating back to his grandfather and carried on by Matt.

At its heart, this is a story of a guy who has screwed up his life, and trying to figure out what we can do to fix it. Watching the John and Matt work out something between them is adorable, and the happily ever after had me tearing up. If I had any complaint it’s that the events at the end of the story seem a bit rushed, but then it’s a novella, not a novel. I really enjoyed this story and happily recommend it!