The outside air temp here in Minnesota is inching towards 90 degrees, and the dew point index is in the 70s (which is deemed “oppressive” as far as humidity is concerned). Yes, it certainly has reached the dog days of summer. So I did what I often do when it’s hot and steamy outside: I think about winter. Because of that, I decided to recommend a book where cold and ice and wind and snow played a vital role in the narrative.
And I immediately thought of Audrey Schulman’s novel The Cage.
In The Cage, Beryl Findham is a young woman who seems to be suspended in her own life. At 5’1”, a child of older parents, and possessing a complacent personality, she has garnered a modest reputation as a nature photographer although most of her subjects reside placidly at the Boston Zoo. It is somewhat surprising, then, that she is chosen to be part of an expedition to Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, to study and document polar bears for a prestigious nature magazine.
It turns out that Beryl was chosen more for her size than her camera skills, in that the metal cage to be used to photograph the bears in their native habitat was made to smaller specs than anticipated, making it inaccessible to most others in the trade. But it doesn’t take long for us to recognize that Beryl surrounds herself in more than one kind of cage, both for protection and to cut herself off from the rest of the world.
Yet just when you think you’re reading a human interest type of story, unexpected calamity strikes, and what was a somewhat subjective tale turns into a harrowing fight for survival.
Author Schulman applies the perfect touch to all aspects of the story. Whether she is exploring Beryl’s internal dialog, her relationship with the other expedition members, the challenges of existing on the frozen arctic tundra or the downright terrifying encounters with polar bears both from a distance and way too close for any kind of comfort, she gives us just what we need to be smack dab in the middle of the action. What Beryl must endure changes her physically, mentally and emotionally, and as we make this journey with her, we must examine ourselves and our lives, as well.
Regardless of the temperatures outside, reading The Cage is bound to leave you chilled to the very core of your being. And that’s a remarkable, amazing, and energizing thing.