Living on Air by Susan Mac Nicol

 5 stars
I have been eagerly awaiting the release of this book from one of my 'go to' authors, Susan Mac Nicol. She has been teasing us for months with little snippets and we have followed her journey from the outset; sometimes literally, as she travelled with a circus for her research. To say writing this book has required effort, is an understatement, but believe me it shows. 
This is a well constructed and superbly crafted piece of writing. 
Living on Air is a book about Cary Stilwell who is an Air Dancer with the Trazellas Circus. He is the central character and is utterly mesmerising. He exists rather than lives, as a result of a devastating and hideous childhood that was filled with sexual abuse and horror. He lost his family in the most horrendous crime at the age of 10 and has been running from his memories ever since.
We meet Cary at the age of 33, having honed his air dancing skills by travelling the world and learning from the best, however, he always returns to Trazellas and it is here we see him trying to survive. way in which Cary copes with heightened stress and pressure is by self-harming, and he has perfected a particularly vicious and painful way to administer this to himself. No one knows; he suffers alone. Whist his circus family love and support him, particularly his 'mother' Greta, Cary prefers not to form attachments to anyone and wallows grumpily in his self pity.  
Until Rhys McIntyre arrives to turn Cary's world upside down. 
The two men have chemistry. Of that there is no doubt. But Cary doesn't do naked, or love, or even nice. Rhys on the other hand is a world class photographic journalist with an optimistic view of life despite the horrors he has seen through his work. As a hiatus from war zones and death defying shoots; Rhys is commissioned to take photos of the circus for a coffee table style book. Cary is the main subject, which requires Rhys to travel around with him for weeks to capture the perfect shot. He captures more than that as Cary begins to unravel in the best and worst way...discoveries are made that threaten to shatter both their lives, and tentative connections are made and broken over and over. 
The book is Susan MacNicol's best to date, in my opinion, and I am a huge fan of her work. It is a sensitive yet brutal exploration of one man's mission to self destruct on both an emotional and physical level. It is a study of love and how it can conquer even the most broken of men.....if permitted. It is graphic in it is intense portrayal of Cary's self harming, yet nothing feels gratuitous. The sexual encounters are emotive and the author leaves us as frustrated as her characters through her evocative descriptions. I experienced angst, sadness, pity, horror, arousal and tenuous happiness along with the characters at various points of the story. It was not entirely unpredictable, but the plot was enthralling with twists and turns all the way through that were both thrilling and disturbing; sometimes gratifying, but most times gasp worthy! 
I wanted a happy ever after for Cary and Rhys. Did they get it? Read the book and find out....