Saturday, September 15, 2012

Going for Gold Ed EM Lynley

Title:Going for Gold
Author: various, Ed. EM Lynley
Cover Artist: Deanna Jamroz
Publisher: MLR Press
Genre: contemporary, sports
Length: 117k words

It's not hard to see the outward appeal of the Olympic Games: watching the fittest and most-accomplished athletes in the world compete—generally with fairly skimpy uniforms. Voyeurism aside, there's nothing sexier than a beautiful body running, jumping, swimming, rowing, and a couple dozen other activities. Who wouldn't take the chance to enjoy the spectacle?

But the Olympics are more than just a chance to watch athletes at the peak of physical perfection. Every competitor at the Games has a story behind why they run or jump or swim, and why they compete. How they got to the Games, and what they sacrificed along the way to make the cut. To spectators, they may perform superhuman feats, but each and every one is human in the same way we all are.

In this collection of stories, you'll find there's a lot more to competing at Olympic level than being the best in one's field. Expectations and pressures from family, friends, coaches and country add up, and sometimes it's only the love of the right man who can make the effort worth it. And sometimes, love is more important than going for gold.

Hot Shots by Michael P. Thomas
Into the Deep by Nico Jaye
The Quad by Kelly Rand
Lightning in a Bottle by Sarah Madison
Swimming the Distance by Annabeth Albert
Shoot for the Gold by Whitley Gray
An Olympic Goal by K-lee Klein
Tumbling Dreams by Kaje Harper

I enjoyed this collection: I love the Olympics, I love stories with depth and development, I love stories where I might learn something, and of course, I love the hot guys. Every story delivered on most of those goals, though with some different strengths. Averaging around 15k per story, these are all longer than I typically find in anthologies, and with correspondingly more meat. The early stories had me thinking “okay” but after a brief warm-up, my socks were knocked completely off.

Hot Shots tackled shooting sports, and this offering from Michael P. Thomas, a new to me author, nearly put me off the whole collection—I wouldn’t have chosen it for the lead off position, because it had the one character I found horribly annoying, compounded by not finding out his name until a third of the way through. Bo, a self-confessed athlete groupie, is only interested in sports in order to cuddle up to the other sportsmen. Even in a piece intended as humor, his assumption that he can get good enough at any sport in six months to even stand next to athletes who have been perfecting their technique since before they started shaving didn’t set well. Bo does some learning, growing, and falling in real love, and the story did grow on me by the end.

Nico Jaye is another new to me author: Into the Deep pairs an American diver with a London local during the Olympics, and while the story was pleasant, it had a flavor of “The Virgin Gazillionaire’s Private Pool” about it. Heavy doses of coincidences and overly extreme characterizations detracted from bartender Blake’s very real doubts about getting involved with a foreigner, and the whole was sweet but trite.

I have met Kelly Rand’s evocative prose before and enjoyed it here again in The Quad, the only story set in the Winter Olympics. Her skater needs the confidence to land the quad jump in competition, and finds support from the most unlikely quarter. This story unrolled beautifully, playing with Kevin’s confidence in his skating and in his personal life, and the man who steps in to help him doesn’t promise more than he can deliver. As she has done before, Kelly Rand leaves the characters standing on the edge of dazzling possibilities. Very well done.

Sarah Madison’s thorough understanding of horses and equestrian competition shines brightly in Lighting in a Bottle, where she focuses more on the lead up to getting into the Olympics than on the big event. Her protagonists have a complex and not entirely happy history when they are thrown together again to prepare Jake and his horses for competition. I absolutely felt like I was in the barn and in the jumping ring with the competitors, and rooted hard for Jake and Rich to make a go of both their relationship and the competitions, and to untangle the complexities that plague them. I still have no idea what the name of their particular event is, involving both dressage and jumping, but the story is so good I almost don’t care.

Distance swimming and the perils of being out publicly are the focus of Annabeth Arden’s Swimming the Distance. Bohdan Petrov is torn between love for his partner, Kyle, and being open about it as Kyle would like. Bohdan’s performance in his 1500 meter race is at stake as he repeatedly denies being gay and/or in a relationship. The ups and downs of his performance and his relationship provided some satisfying reading, although I was a little distracted by formulating my own replies to nosy interviewers.

Back to shooting sports again with Whitley Gray’s Shoot for the Gold, where marksman Matt Justice beans himself on some scaffolding at the Olympic Village and has to deal with the residual effects of the injury. He’s severely limited in treatment options unless he cares to disqualify himself from competition, but sports doctor Levi Wolf, who’s carrying baggage of his own, has some non-pharmacologic treatments (not that, get your minds out of the gutter!!!) that can keep Matt competing honestly. Professional ethics, past history, and personal attraction conflict here, adding a nice dimension to the story. This is another new to me author, and I’ll be checking out the back list.

In An Olympic Goal, K-Lee Klein examines the conflicts between playing for a professional team in one country and a national team in another, and adds the complication of one’s lover playing for the other country. This sounds like a lose/lose proposition on a couple levels, but the Swiss and Spanish football (soccer) players turn it into a win for everyone somehow. Soccer is one of those “wake me up when it’s time to cheer” sports for me (yes, I am aware this is blasphemy in some quarters) but I remained interested in the conflicts and the lovers, if not the sport.

Tumbling Dreams was the story that had me sniffling and rereading immediately, and is an amazing finish to a great collection. Kaje Harper’s gymnast Tyler has a berth on the Olympic gymnastics team, a threatening injury, and a roommate whose heart breaks silently and repeatedly with every backflip and vault. Eli’s living in quiet desperation, both wanting Tyler to achieve his dreams and to back away from the sport, and for Tyler to want him as more than a friend but not if every morning brings a fresh chance to destroy himself while Eli has to watch. Densely layered and slightly tragic, this story doesn’t wrap everyone and everything in gold.

The book did have a couple of formatting issues that cut severely into the reading experience. While certainly not the authors’ fault, the construction of the MOBI file did not permit jumping to the table of contents. Come on, MLR, this is pretty basic. Also not the authors’ fault, and maybe not even the editor’s choice, it’s hard to say, but the trademark acknowledgements at the beginning of each story felt like a great big slap in the face. Yes, it’s legal jargon and has to be there, but no, I did not appreciate the big jolt out of the reading mood between stories. Stick it at the front where I can get it over with or at the end where I can admire the legal thoroughness instead of after each title where I get knocked out of the story before I even start.

Between a couple of just okay stories and some irritating publisher’s choices, I can’t say this is a gold medal read across the board, but there are certainly a lot of winning stories in this volume. Warmly recommended. 4.25 marbles

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