The Locker Room

Title: The Locker Room
Author: Amy Lane
Cover Artist: Dan Skinner/Cerberus Inc.
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Buy link: Amazon.com
Genre: Contemporary M/M
Length: Novel/250 pages/no word count
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

This review contains what could be considered spoilers

Review summary: This book could have been memorable for me except for a few missteps.

THE BLURB

Xander Karcek has only wanted two things in his life: Christian Edwards and basketball—the man he loves and the game that let him escape a childhood he’d rather forget. His two obsessions have served him well. He and Chris beat the odds and stayed together through high school, college, and right on to the NBA.

But life under fame’s microscope isn’t easy, especially when two men are pretending to be frat-buddies so the world doesn’t know they’re the next best thing to married. Their relationship survives the sacrifices they make and the lies they tell to stay together, but when their secret is exposed, the fallout might destroy them when nothing else could.

Chris and basketball are the two things holding Xander together. Now the world is asking Xander to make a choice. Is there an option that includes a future with the man he loves?

THE REVIEW

I love sports so whenever there’s a new M/M sports oriented book out I’m overjoyed because they are such a rarity compared to the other themes and genres. The Locker Room is a story about two basketball heroes who loved each other so much almost nothing could keep them apart: not the game, the fans, or their teammates. The only person to achieve that doubtful feat was their abusive coach, Strauss Wallick. But I’m getting ahead of myself. 

The Locker Room follows the protagonists Xander Karcek and Christian Edwards for over a decade, through their teen years up to 25 years old. I followed their love for each other and their triumphs as together they were magic both on and off the court. Then came  the disappointments, separation and ultimately the tragedy that changed their lives forever. 

Told mostly through Xander’s third person POV, it’s hard not to feel for the abused and neglected kid who was saved by the game of basketball and the love of his life, Chris Edwards. Xan and Chris met when they were almost 15. Although Amy Lane’s protagonists are always three dimensional, the one common characteristic most of them seem to share is that they are damaged and abused, and this book follows that pattern in spades. Xander was so horribly abused at home by his mother that he never stayed there if he could help it – there was no food, the apartment was always freezing and his drug addicted mother told him to suck it up and smoke crack to relieve his hunger pains. Instead, Xander chose to play basketball whenever he was hungry. Xan’s young life was hell and he went through just about every imaginable indignity. He only had one meal a day courtesy of the daily free lunch at school, which was not enough food for a growing teenager. He might have resorted to a life of crime or died from starvation if he hadn’t met Chris one day when he was trying to keep his hunger at bay on the basketball court. When he met Chris’s mom and dad, Andi and Jed, he realized what a real family was like and ultimately they became his family.

Chris and Xan fell in love and over the  years  their lives merged – high school, college and then the NBA draft when they were both selected to play on the same team, Sacramento, through the understanding and machinations of a wonderful agent, Leo, a delightful character whose sense of humour was sometimes off the charts. They tried to live their lives on the down low  in the glare of the spotlight, but in the process they lost something precious – themselves!

First the positives: Xander and Chris are two wonderful, flawed, complex,  protagonists who made my heart ache because they were so vulnerable . Their devotion to each other was incredibly touching and moving, the way they were like two halves of a whole made their love shine. Chris’s wonderful parents who took Xan into their homes at 16 and Penny, Chris’s sister, were a delight. However, I had some major issues with The Locker Room and the biggest was the author’s decision to require that her protagonists, who considered themselves married, should have sex with women after every third home game to allay rumours about their sexual orientation. The execution of that plan put a lot of strain on their relationship, their health, and almost broke their spirit and their hearts. Forcing themselves to have  sex with women made Chris and Xan physically sick, they felt “tainted and soiled”, even though they used two condoms rather than one as a symbolic gesture to separate themselves from the act, and they could barely stand to touch each other afterwards. Xan’s nightmares and stomach problems got worse and Chris started drinking, so what was the purpose of that strategy which was degrading at the very least, for the two men as well as the women they used. Even though the sex was not on-page I felt for Xan and Chris every time they had to go through with this charade and I wondered why other viable options were not pursued such as those that gay sports stars and celebrities use all the time today. Tom Clancy once said “The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.” Well this didn’t make a damn bit of sense to me 

Another difficulty I had was the “harem” in the house once Chris was traded to Denver. I thought it was a good move to have Penny stay with Xan, after all she was Chris’s sister, the house was half his, and she had been in Xan’s life since he met her brother, but what was the purpose of the other two women sharing the house with Xan? They came out of left field and didn’t have any purpose in the story except as set decoration –  they could have stayed elsewhere  – or maybe this was a set-up for their upcoming stories, but whatever the reason again this didn’t make any sense to me other than the house could accommodate them. I had a few other issues with the story but these were  two of the major ones.

Amy Lane is known as the Queen of Angst because she seems to inflict the maximum amount of hurt on her characters, as evidenced by her other books – two recent ones that I reviewed had similar elements. A reasonable amount of angst is tolerable for me and I know that some readers love angst a lot more than I do.  Whenever I read one of this author’s contemporary books the injuries that her characters sustain seem excessive and extreme, and many times I have to stop reading and come back to the story when the knot in my stomach goes away  or I just skip some parts altogether. Maybe I’m just a wimp. 🙁  Amy Lane is an incredible writer, her stories are well researched and at times they are a lot of fun, but I do find that the hurt/comfort aspect can be overwhelming. In The Locker Room one of her protagonists almost dies in a terrible accident. What was the purpose if all it did was deny him something he valued that he had worked for all his life, but which, due to twist of fate, a bad decision, or the author’s pen, he would never be able to do again?

In summary, most of the book was terrific and I wished that the games could go on forever. I loved the protagonists, I thought that Chris’s parents, his sister Penny and some of the other characters were great – Xan’s and Chris’s agent Leo, Lucia their housekeeper who took care of them and kept all their secrets, their first two coaches, Chris’s teammate Cliff and his wife Alicia. As for Coach Wallick, he was a one dimensional cardboard figure who was demonic and way over the top.  When I discussed my concerns about the story with another reviewer he said “I don’t really think it was up to her usual awesomeness” and I agree, which is why I couldn’t award The Locker Room the full 5 stars, but 4.5 stars is an appropriate rating for a book that had great characters but some of the sub plots didn’t work for me.

 Recommended.

Author

I live in Canada and I love big dogs, music, movies, reading and sports – especially baseball

48 comments

  • PS Wave- Bella’s Brother is ROFL funny! No hospital visits only chicken pocks, and a couple of drama background stories but that’s it. This is a comedy! Even has a monkey story that makes me laugh just recalling it.

    Great review! I can sympathize with your response as I’ve had this experience myself. Some reads aren’t worth the emotional backlash!
    :explode:

    So when you recover-Bella’s. Brother-
    :hysterics:

    Reply
    • Reggie
      I will definitely check out Bella’s Brother because I do like Amy’s writing. I intended to read it when the book was reviewed on the site (I think Jenre might have reviewed it) but I forgot. Thanks so much for reminding me. 🙂

      For future books by Amy I’ll wait for other readers’ reviews before I get them. In this case the sports aspect was what hooked me in because I’m a sports fan and I can’t wait for new books with this theme because there are so few of them.

      Thanks for understanding my perspective Reggie. 🙂

      Reply
  • I liked the book, but Amy does owe me a couple of boxes of tissues.
    I didn’t have a problem with the hospital scene, family waiting areas are an awful place filled with grief, hope and desperation. What didn’t work for me in the book was the thing with the coach. Seemed just way over the top for professional sports, would have been more believable at middle/highschool level.

    Reply
    • Hi mrb

      I liked certain aspects of the book and like you I felt that the coach was way over the top for professional sports. He was a one dimensional cardboard cut out and not at all realistic.

      The hospital scene with the waiting for an entire week I found a bit much because I felt that it was long drawn out, however what upset me more was the way Chris’s life, as it was, ended. At 25, for someone so vibrant, to have his career terminated for a stupid mistake and never to walk again, took the pleasure out of the book for me.

      Reply
      • to me I didn’t read the accident as a life, as it was, ending thing for Chris. Didnt seem like he loved the game all that much and his main reason for playing was so he could play with Xan. Being a professional athlete, even if the accident left him wheelchair bound, and he wanted to still play, he could do so in the NWBA.

        Reply
        • Hi mrb

          As you said, Chris’s main reason for playing was to play with Xan, so the NWBA, while it would have been an alternative, would not have been an option for Chris since he played the game to play with Xan. That’s why I regarded his being in a wheelchair as career ending, since I couldn’t see him continuing in the game if his main reason for doing so was taken away.

          As I said in the review, I did like the game sequences so there was a lot in the book I could relate to. 🙂

          Reply
  • Thanks for this well written review. I found it very thought provoking as I read yours and the other reviewers well articulated response to this story.

    I liked my experience with this book very much and had to really ponder why I didn’t react as others. It made me realize that I approached the story as a “Pilgrim’s Progress” type story. I put my reader helmet and flack jacket on, prepared for all sorts of obstacles to be thrown in Xan’s way as he traveled his path from injured boy to strong complete MAN. So I was paying such close attention to what the author was saying about Xan, his perspectives and choices that I didn’t react as emotionally to the actual circumstances. All the niggles that have been spoken of made complete sense from this perspective. The decision to be intimate with women was indeed extreme, but then their living arrangements were very unique also. When Xan finally drew a line in the sand he gained a new awareness of himself. Even Penny and the girls were needed to add tools to his personality that enabled him to be the man he was on the last page. Watching the butterfly of his personality emerge at the end was such a WOW moment!! The author put all the pieces together beautifully for the transformation of his identity.

    But I can see every ones point. Did the obstacles used have to be so hard on the reader also? The decisions a writer has to make 😕 I could never do it. This book seems to qualify as art, as everyone had such personal reactions to it. It’s tough being an artist!!

    Another great review Wave. I never would have stopped to think otherwise. Thank you for all the thought and time you put into this. :bravo:

    Reply
    • Hi Reggie

      Thanks for commenting.

      I should say from the outset that I like this author’s writing, however recently I am finding her contemporary stories increasingly disturbing in terms of the level of angst which is now through the ceiling. I know that many of her fans love angst but I’m exhausted at the end of one of Amy’s books and my stomach is in knots, which is not a good reaction.

      When I read a book I expect the experience to be a mix of pleasure and enjoyment but at the same time I don’t mind a certain level of tension/angst to make things interesting. I’m not looking for fairy tales but realistic stories, and this one was certainly not at all based on reality IMO. Here the author increased the level of angst exponentially to such an extent that I eventually stopped enjoying the story and went through the rest of it because I was reading it for review. If I wasn’t, I probably would not have finished it for months because it affected me so negatively. Some would say that if a story has such an effect on you then it must be good. and they could be right.

      I had major issues, not just niggles, with the approach used in a couple of the sub plots and I didn’t find that they contributed in a positive way to the overall story. It seems that a lot of other readers agreed with my assessment, but some of them were not as bothered.

      Some authors use angst in their stories as their signature device, and I wasn’t kidding when I said that Amy Lane is regarded as the Queen of Angst since her stories are so filled with angst they are unbearable for some readers. Where is the enjoyment in that? Whatever her reasons I guess they work for most of her fans. As for the characters, they are so damaged I find it very difficult to see the world through their eyes. I’m not a writer so I can only give you my assessment as a reader. Other writers may say that the story showed the author’s skill and ability in exploring themes, despite how they may appear to readers and they are also right.

      I have already said both in the review and the comments why I couldn’t bear what happened in this book, especially Chris’s fate which came out of the blue, although I could sense that the book was building up to a big finish, but I didn’t expect that his career would end the way it did.

      I would be a liar if I said that this book didn’t affect me, it did, but not in the way I expected and it caused me to rethink the kind of books I want to read.

      If the way things happened in the book are what it takes to make a man a man then I guess I’ve been wrong all along. We all have to learn to take life’s blows and make them work for us, and an author’s pen is very powerful and can show us different ways to look at life. In this case I didn’t like what I saw.

      I mean no disrespect to this writer because I think she’s extremely talented and I love some of her books, but although I admired the writing skill in The Locker Room I couldn’t love the book because of the major issues I had with some of the plot. I loved the characters and the sports aspect of the story, which is why I continued to read because I wanted to see how it would all play out.

      However as I said before, I’m very glad you loved it Reggie. Different strokes 😀 Damn, I didn’t mean to write a book. LOL

      Reply
  • I really loved this book. I loved watching Chris and Xan grow up together, share their college years, pro careers and successes. I didn’t like the sex with women and didn’t see the point of it. But it did not detrack from their story for me, it just made me hurt for them.

    Reply
    • Hi Patty
      As I said to a couple of other readers, we all react to things differently and books are one area where viewpoints are dissimilar.

      I’m happy that you enjoyed the book. I too thought that the sex with women was WAY too extreme a strategy when there were other options available which were just as effective or moreso. This and other strategies in the book did detract from my enjoyment, to the point where I probably won’t be reading future books by this author for a while.

      Reply
  • I too didn’t like the sex with woman, and didn’t quite understand why the harem either 😕 but despite that I did love this book!

    This was my first Amy Lane book and I was totally entertained and couldn’t put it down. :reading1:

    Reply
    • Jaime

      Thank you for commenting.

      Amy is a very intense writer which is why she has so many fans. There is no middle ground with readers – they either love her books or hate them.

      The book was very entertaining and for me the best parts were the scenes with the guys together and the ones on the court. I’m glad you enjoyed The Locker Room.

      Reply
  • Thank you Wave! I must admit that I am looking forward to reading this book – I love angst, especially Amy Lane’s form of angst, although like rosesarered I definitely need some down time afterward 🙂

    Reply
    • Hi Orannia

      I loved a lot about the book as you can tell from the rating. I do love angst but everything in moderation and I find that Amy’s books cause me a whole lot of stomach clenching and time away from them before I finish. However, she’s a terrific writer which is why she has so many fans and I am a fan or I wouldn’t read her books.

      Reply
  • Hey, Wave– I just wanted to say thank you for the review–I’m glad you enjoyed the book to the extent that you did! As always, a good writer looks for feedback, and, of course, things to think about–there is always room for improvement:-) 😎

    Reply
    • Hi Amy
      Thank you for dropping by.

      I loved most of the book and I especially adored the guys and the scenes on the court. Those were exceptional.

      Reply
  • I have only read 3 books from this author, but I could detect some similar traits in her stories. I’d say – for me – her sometime over-the-top angst and emotions work better in a fantasy context, thus “Truth in the Dark” in my favourite. Her comtemporary ones I’ve read, including this one, while mostly well-written, I had to suspend belief to read them. At times, I was almost impatient with the characters’ decisions and I also think while HEA is a desired requirement, the ending is done with lots of wishful thinking.

    And while there are lots of angst in the story, they are more related to the character’s personal life, than the real issues of being gay at the highest level of pro sport, apart from the cardboard homophobic coach, the difficulties not really fleshed out – remember Justin Fashanu eventually committed suicide after he came out and he’s not even a top tier footballer like Xan and Chris. The truth is not just angst, it’s ugly.

    I just can’t help that the story has missed the opportunity.

    Reply
    • Hi Eve
      Thank you for commenting.

      I agree with you that this author’s over the top angst works better in a fantasy setting and her contemporary books, even those I rated higher, always affected me. Maybe I’m too much of a wimp for all of the angst, as I said before.

      You’re absolutely correct that this story was a missed opportunity and could have been written to reflect what was going on in Major Lerague sports in a much broader context rather than just responding to a vicious homophobic coach.

      I do remember that Justin, who was the first professional fotball player to come out as gay, committed suicide in 1998, soon after he went to the US, but it was because he was accused of sexual assault by a 17 year old boy. After he was questioned by the police he took his own life but left a note saying that the sex was consensual. He was the first black football player to demand a transfer fee of 1 million pounds so he was pretty high up the professional hierarchy.

      Reply
  • Great review, Wave. Like you, I love sports books, so this was a no-brainer for me. I had niggles about the “hot water heater”, “stifling” air-conditioning and the zig-zag cross-country drive (why was it so aimless?). Very clumsy turns of phrase that I hadn’t noticed in her writing before jumped out at me in this book.

    I hated the sleeping with women thing because of what it did to Xan and Christian, not so much because of the paid beard factor. Wasn’t it mentioned that they’d done a lot of that old-time Hollywood escorting women around thing and it didn’t work because of that fuckhead coach? I’m just thankful the het sex was all done off-page. It was hard enough reading about the affect.

    You know I love angst. Hell, it’s like oxygen to me. The hospital scenes before they get word on Chris’s fate were way too much for me. Too long, too heavy. I admit to skimming a lot of that.

    Keeping Promise Rock is one of my all-time favorite books. The Locker Room won’t join KPR, but I did like it. The love between Xan and Chris was beautiful and that kept me going.

    The game sequences were wonderfully done. I liked the will-he-or-won’t-he-play ending, because if Amy Lane had gone either way someone would have bitched. And that someone might have been me! See? She saved me! 🙂

    Reply
    • Hi Buda
      I had many issues with this book but decided to only mention two – the sex with women and the harem.

      We both love sports books and you and I discussed who would review it but you’re such a gentleman (or a coward) that you left me to take the heat. 🙂

      The sex with women and the effect it had on Xan and Chris is something that I can’t rationalize. I know it’s just a book but the effect on the guys was so incredibly foul that if I had nightmares about books I would have several about this one. They had used beards earlier in the book so I didn’t understand why it was so necessary to go this route – maybe it was to raise the level of angst into the stratosphere, above where it was already.

      For me what saved this book were as you said, the game sequences, and she did her homework for those or had great help. Also the love between the guys was incredible and made up for a lot that I found lacking. Some of the characters I loved but the rest I didn’t love as much or not at all.

      That hospital scenes I couldn’t take. I didn’t write about them because I thought that those who read the book needed to experience some of the story themselves but they made me want to throw up. I just felt that some of the story was WAY over the top, especially Coach Wallick – vicious, mean, unprofessional, homophobic, a cretin (I could go on but I’m sure you figured out I didn’t like him). 🙁

      I agree with you about the ending – although I don’t as a rule like cliffhangers.

      Reply
      • Ah, Wave. You wound me. 😥

        You know how I am. I’ll throw out any old issue I can remember. I really must get a filter for my brain. I didn’t particularly care for Leo; I was waiting for Xan to take his head off. The last girl, the one who sort of triggers the end of the 3rd-home-game game, I didn’t mind. Penny was a crack up. The other girl? Don’t even remember her now.

        Yup. I OD’d on the angst in this one. I needed something light and fun to recover.

        Reply
        • Buda
          You deserved to be called a coward. 😀 I always have your back but when it came time for you to help me out — oh no! 😯

          I liked Leo because he was comic relief after all the angst you love so much. I did like Penny a lot, but the other two women — who were they and what were they doing in my story?

          So you’re saying that the amount of angst in this story was too much for even you, you angst whore? WOW! I never thought I would see the day. LOL 😕

          Reply

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