Title: Thrown Off the Ice
Author: Taylor Fitzpatrick
Length: 224 Pages
Category: LGBTQ Fiction
At a Glance: There are no miracles conjured in Thrown Off the Ice, nor does the author end the story before the inescapable outcome of Mike’s decline. This novel is a punch to the gut, a bona fide tearjerker, and earned every bit of my love.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: Mike knew he was making a mistake when he let the rookie climb into bed with him. He just didn’t know it’d be a mistake that would follow him for the rest of his life.
Review: Author Taylor Fitzpatrick makes no secret of how the long-term effects of the repetitive concussions Mike Bouwer has suffered as an enforcer in the NHL will influence the ending of her novel Thrown Off the Ice. When she wrote “for the rest of his life” in the blurb, she meant it in the literal, quantifiable sense, but it wasn’t until I’d reached the final chapter of the book that I realized I wasn’t being served up a tragic romance as much as I was reading a story about sports related traumatic brain injuries and the influence that those injuries would eventually have on Mike and his relationship with his ‘mistake’, Liam Fitzgerald. Though, the interpretation of the word mistake is up for debate. I would argue that word is Mike’s to own more so that Liam’s.
Mike Bouwer is not the archetypal hard on the surface, soft to the core character familiar to romance readers. There is no sugarcoating of the fact that he is a perpetually grumpy bastard. Mike is a hard man, the one emotion he knows how to express—and does so consistently—is anger, but that doesn’t mean he’s entirely lacking in decency or that he doesn’t have moments where Liam gets through that gruff exterior, either. When the eighteen-year-old rookie imprints on Mike like a puppy to its human, it doesn’t endear Liam to Mike as much as it annoys the hell out of the thirty-year-old veteran who knows with a visceral clarity that he’s on the wrong side of his playing days. From the moment Liam begins his obvious, awkward, and entirely endearing seduction of Mike, readers are shown all the ways in which Mike is both annoyed by it and is, at the same time, tempted by the kid to the point of distraction. Liam makes no secret of the fact that he wants Mike, wants Mike to be his first in every single way, which Mike obliges somewhat reluctantly but also willingly as their relationship begins as a purely sexual experiment. It’s Mike’s intent to give Liam what he’s looking for and then send the kid packing off to someone closer to his age.
Which was only proof that Mike knew nothing of Liam Fitzgerald.
The more Liam becomes Mike’s addiction, the more Mike baulks at how much a fixture in his life Liam has become. Mike complains, he pushes Liam away, he makes decisions on Liam’s behalf that are for the kid’s own good, which hurts and enrages Liam but, in the end, was an entirely accurate assumption of what Liam would have done and how Mike would have only held Liam back. That does not negate the fact that Mike pushed away the best mistake he could’ve ever made, though. He was merely lucky that Liam was as obstinate as he was in love.
Fitzpatrick chose to stick with Mike through the telling of his story, all the way up to the final chapter which is, by necessity, told from Liam’s point of view. Readers are offered every thought and emotion Mike experiences—through his playing days, to his retirement, and all the way to his steadily degenerative physical experiences—in a clear, personal, and immediate way, as the story is written in the limited third person, present tense. The mode of storytelling does not come without consequence in that there was never a moment during the reading where I wasn’t aware I was being told a story, but, while it’s something that might be off putting to some readers, it does end up working so well in this case. This is, without question, Mike’s story, and by necessity it was intimate.
Thrown Off the Ice is a character driven novel. While role players move through the story here and there, Mike and Liam are what hold the story together and move it forward. It begins in 2016 and spans seventeen years into a future of highs and lows. When the highs are high, it’s Mike and Liam together and content, and when the lows are low, they are abjectly, profoundly low in a brutal and gut-wrenching way. As Mike’s body and health begin to deteriorate, and Liam keeps loving him all the more, the ending of their story becomes all too clear. There are no miracles conjured, nor does the author end the story before the inescapable outcome of Mike’s decline. This novel is a punch to the gut, a bona fide tearjerker, and earned every bit of my love, not for how the relationship between Mike and Liam is explored to its fullest extent; or that we get to know what makes them tick in a deep, expository way; or even that I necessarily liked Mike a lot of the time; but for how effortlessly I became invested in seeing them through to their conclusion…in spite of knowing it was going to emotionally eviscerate me for my efforts.
You can buy Thrown Off the Ice here: