“Every day we walk away from once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, chasing after other once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. We just have to hope we’re choosing the right thing to chase.” – Leta Blake
You know, sometimes this review business boils down to nothing more than read this book. But while that tells you what to do, it doesn’t say anything at all about why you should read it, which is really the most important part about sharing the love of the books we read.
Leta Blake’s Training Season is a just-read-it kind of book for me. First of all it’s a “ripped right out of the headlines” story, considering what gay athletes are facing in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia, and Matty Marcus is just that—a gay athlete—but not only is he a gay athlete, he’s a flamboyantly and unapologetically gay athlete, which, in the world of figure skating may not be unheard of but doesn’t seem to do him any favors when it comes down to win or lose on the ice.
Of course, Matty being his own worst enemy doesn’t help either.
The loveliest thing about this book, however, is not its current affairs relevance. The one thing (or maybe it’s the many things) that made this a powerful read for me is its layers. This isn’t a simple story of an athlete who wants to make it to the big dance again, although that is the core plot and the cause of all the conflict in the novel. But it’s also, in part, a story of sacrifice, not only the sacrifice of an athlete training to be the best but also of that athlete’s family and the sacrifices they make to support a child’s dream. It’s a story of drive and determination and an exploration of how an athlete can be driven to compete for the wrong reasons. It’s the story of a man, if one is being completely honest, who is narcissistic in his need to prove that he’s the best at what he does—even if he often has trouble believing he’s deserving of the accolades he craves. It’s a story of self-sabotage and a story, perhaps most importantly, of discipline and control which evolves not on the rink but at the hands of Rob Lovely, the man who gives Matty every reason to question what he wants from life but not enough motivation to make him reevaluate whether he wants it for the right reasons.
Matty meets Rob in Montana, where he’s taken on the job of ranch-sitting for a wealthy older couple while they’re out of the country. It’s a grossly overpaid gig, but the wife is a fan of Matty’s and the money is impossible to turn down since Matty’s been out of the competitive skating world recovering from an injury that’s placed a huge financial burden on his parents.
The relationship between these two men develops from something that Matty had intended to be nothing more than sex to an emotional and physical imperative through the exploration of dominance and submission, the sort of discipline that Matty truly needs and Rob is not only capable of giving him but is also all too glad to do it.
I am in no way a BDSM expert. I only know what I read in books, but I have to say I think Leta Blake mastered (pun maybe intended) the portrayal of Matty and Rob’s relationship beautifully. I don’t write a lot about sexual content in my reviews because like beauty, erotica and the way it’s presented in writing is in the eye of the beholder, but I have to say I thought the emotional pitch of every sex scene in this book was intense, with each one being uniquely provocative and sensual in its own way. Though Matty and Rob’s relationship is a communion of two men who’ve fallen deeply in love outside of the bedroom, and in spite of knowing it will end, so much of the beauty of their connection comes in the absolute trust Matty gives to Rob and the ways in which Rob gives Matty every reason to trust him.
One of the very many things I felt Leta Blake did so right in the evolution of this story, the one thing that I’m always grateful for, is that there were no instant and magical fixes to the many obstacles Matty and Rob faced. The reality of their relationship, and who Matty was as both a man and an athlete, was in the choices he made and how they affected everything else in his life, and those choices ultimately held consequences for which he paid dearly. The emotional balance in Training Season is sublime, ranging from laugh out loud funny to breathtaking heartbreak, sometimes from one paragraph to the next. Not only are Matty and Rob perfectly portrayed (yes, even when Matty’s being a spoiled diva), but all the role players and minor characters in the book are wholly realized, some utterly charming, and each integral to the telling of the story and the development of Matty and Rob as friends, lovers, and individuals.
So, there you have it. Read this book. That’s what it all adds up to in the end. I loved it in pretty much every way it’s possible to love a book and its characters.