Title: Stroke to His Cox
Author: JL Merrow
Genre: Contemporary M/M, Sports
Length: DSP Daydream (25 pdf pages)
Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5
A Guest Review by Cole
Review Summary: A sweet, funny, and sexy story about a coxswain and his stroke rower and a tryst in the boat house.
As coxswain of a Cambridge college rowing team, pint-sized Dave Tanaka has eight strapping athletes hanging on his every word, their strength at his command. Leading his crew to win their oars might be easier if Dave didn’t have to hide his crush on Archie, the stroke rower – but as they prepare for their final race, Dave doesn’t suspect that Archie is in the same boat as him in more ways than one!
Dave Tanaka is from the only Japanese family on the Isle of Wight and the coxswain of the Cambridge crew team. He is also only 5’5″ and doesn’t hide that he’s a poof, and in his words “…what with angsting about being foreign-looking, angsting about being the music teacher’s kid, followed by angsting about being a short-arse, by the time I’d worked out I was gay I just thought Oh, what the hell, bring it on!” Therefore, being the coxswain on the crew team is perfect for him — not only is his slight body type perfect for the job, but he gets eight strapping jocks to do his bidding, looking at him as if he’s their god. He can barely keep his eye off Archie, the stroke rower, as this position of authority over the strapping straight hunk sparks his sexual fantasies. But, no matter where he lets his mind roam on personal time, while rowing Dave does everything possible not to alert Archie and the rest of the team to the hard-on those fantisies bring as he watches Archie’s bulging biceps on the oars and strapping thighs as he moves forward and backward in succession, keeping the stroke to Dave’s chants. Then, in a celebratory mood after the Bumps, Archie sets out to show Dave that he knows all about those fantasies and harbors some of his own.
This story was a sweet gem, not only for the blazing, sexual chemistry between Dave and Archie, but also for the funny and original voice Dave has as he narrates the story. Set in first person, this is an example of how a short story can delve right into a character with an original voice and vision of the world around them. That is often difficult to find in a short story, because there is so little time to get to know the characters, but it is done very well here because of Dave’s quick wit. He is a handful and very intelligent. He often makes fun of the Neanderthal jocks who somehow got into Cambridge, though he loves them all the same. Likewise, the rest of the team treats him well, though they are sometimes crass. There is a good sense of camraderie among the team that I really enjoyed. If Archie plays the role of the team’s big brother, then the quote is true; Dave acts as their god, calling all their moves, always a few steps ahead of them, while Archie sets the example setting the rhythm of the strokes.
I felt a tug in the pit of my stomach as the boat surged forward — and then it began again. Catch — drive — recovery. Catch — drive — recovery. Does he dream about this? I wondered.
I used to wank off thinking about this, about Archie rowing stroke, gazing back at me like I’m some sort of god. I used to, until the day we were out on the river and I realized I was getting a hard-on. I nearly dove into the water out of sheer bloody embarrassment. I mean, it’s not like I hid the fact I was a poof, but I made sure I didn’t rub it in their faces.
God, I wanted to rub it in Archie’s face.
Aside from the original voice, I love the characterizations of Dave and Archie, whose bodies and sometimes actions are often lies as to what they are really like. JL Merrow turns stereotypical gay male roles right on their heads as Dave becomes the take-charge Alpha male and Archie, the straight jock type, becomes the beta. I felt like I got a really good idea of who these characters are — though, of course, I understood Dave better than anyone because he is the narrator. There were a few times when the technical aspects of rowing and how the competition is set up that went over my head, but it didn’t affect my appreciation of the story.
This was a great little story that didn’t need a lot of angst or a heavy, dramatic pretext to accomplish it’s goal of having an impact. In a subtle way, Dave’s voice does that in a fun and sexy way. I love to read short stories that give me a happy break in my day and leave me feeling refreshed while the rest of the day I chuckle as I think back on the story. I would love to see another chapter in the lives of Dave and Archie. I recommend this story, especially to those who like to read sports themes, and I will keep it around to read when I want a little pick-me-up.