After a string of successful childrenâ€™s books, Davis Garner starts â€œphoning it inâ€ and the booksâ€™ quality suffers. Now heâ€™s behind on a contract. And heâ€™s getting evicted from his apartment. And he just found out that he tested positive for HIV. With his life spiraling out of control, a friend lands him a job. But thereâ€™s a catch: itâ€™s for the position of technical writer on a science expedition to Antarctica. Did I mention that he knows nothing about doing the job? So begins Chris Kenryâ€™s lovely The Survival Methods and Mating Rituals of Men and Marine Mammals.
The novel follows Davis through his orientation with the science services contractor as he attends countless mind-numbing PowerPoint training sessions, endures cubicle warfare, and learns how to stealthily sleep in the bathroom. For anyone who has been stuck in an overly regulated corporate structure, this section will both ring sadly true and hilarious. However, the book really takes off as Davis goes on his two voyages to the Antarctic. The close quarters, the rival goals, the strange cast of characters (from the ice queen tech administrator to the secretly wealthy vessel technician), and the harsh setting combine to make a story that is both compelling and original. As the reader learns more about Davis, the book metamorphoses into something more ideal. He goes from a bumbling body to a staunch advocate for his beliefs. As he becomes more entrenched, so does the reader, which leads to a standoff that could have lethal consequences.
Thatâ€™s not to say that this book doesnâ€™t have a few flaws. Some of the characters, particularly the suave but evil scientist Artaud, are drawn with broad strokes that make them a bit two-dimensional. But most frustrating to me is the climax of the story. Well, the lack of climax. I call it the â€œTarzan problem-solving methodâ€ because Edgar Rice Burroughs used to do the same thing. (Spoilers ahead, by the way!) In the climactic scene near the end when the good guys are trapped, fearing for their lives, and the bad guys are about to get away, the scene cuts to fifteen months later. No sweep up. No explanation of what actually happened on the boat or, more importantly, how it happened. This sleight of hand canâ€™t help but leave the reader feeling a bit cheated, a tough sin to forgive at the end of 450 pages.
The Survival Methods and Mating Rituals of Men and Marine Mammals does something that I highly appreciate in modern LGBT literature. The fact that the main character is gay is not his main problem. Itâ€™s faking his way through a job so that he can keep making money and having health insurance; his HIV positive status is a major plot point. Nonetheless, Kenry makes Davis a survivor who isnâ€™t laid low by his health. All in all, this book is an enjoyable romp with an ending that could stand to be tweaked. Recommended for public libraries and individuals who like good travel stories and character-driven novels.
Reviewer: Mack Freeman