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

  • This is the first Amy Lane book I have read and I absolutely loved it. The love between Xan and Chris is so intense, so powerful, one can’t help but feel jealous of their relationship and wish the same for themselves. The angst is through the roof and I agree with you, I had to stop several times when the angstmeter surged through the roof. So much so that I could not read any other book for a week (finally got to Keeping Promise Rock last night and that has done me in for the rest of this week LOL)
    I had no problems with the ‘sleeping with the women part’ I think it worked for the story. To me it highlighted the fact that Xan and Chris are flawed and this was a very bad and unsound decision that they’d made. But the guys felt like they had no one else they could confide in or get advice from and their main aim was not to be split up and to play together for their chosen team without attracting any unwanted attention (the fact that they failed spectacularly is the main thrust of the story, isn’t it)
    In fact after reading this book, I googled gay athletes and found this article
    http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2011-05-04/homophobia-in-major-league-baseball-nba-nfl-isnt-going-away/
    and somehow everything in the book made so much sense. It also made me sad to think that if this was real life, Xan wouldn’t be playing in the Championship game at the end :/
    Sorry for being so long winded but I just wanted to add that I agree with Mary Calmes on both the points she makes.
    I also agree with you on the pointlessness of Xander’s harem but that seems like a trademark Amy Lane thing (now that I’ve seen Deacon’s strays in Keeping Promise Rock).

    Reply
    • Hi rosesarered

      Thank you for commenting. I’ll try to respond to some of what you said.

      The love between Chris and Xan was really powerful which is why I couldn’t stand what happened to them. Their love was so pure and it was tainted by having them have sex with women.

      I agree that homophobia in Major League sports won’t go away for awhile but athletes are coming out of the closet after their playing days are over and a few while they are still playing.

      One university of Miami hockey player Brendan Burke, son of Brian Burke who is the Coach of The Toronto Maple Leafs, did come out but unfortunately he died in an automobile accident last year. Even though Brendan was not in the Majors things are changing. Following his death, his memory and contribution to LGBT awareness in hockey was honored by several hockey teams. The “Brendan Burke Internship” was later established in his honor by USA Hockey for his work in hockey management and a documentary entitled The Legacy of Brendan Burke aired on CBC Television in November 2010. Brian was 20 years old when he was killed.

      Anton Hyson, Europe’s highest profile soccer player came out of the closet in March of this year. He is the son of famed Swedish player Glenn Hyson, a former defender of Liverpool FC. There are other athletes who are reported to be considering coming out of the closet.

      Justin Fashanu who played professional soccer for 20 years in England, Australia and Canada came out while he was still playing and there are many others including Sheryl Swoopes who played for the WNBA and John Amaechi who came out after he retired from the NBA. I just wish that more athletes would come out while still playing.

      Eventually in the story Xan did come out but it was too late to save Chris. It didn’t make sense to me what the guys did because it made their love for each other a travesty.

      Re the harem, as one reader said, they could have been used as a cover for the guys if they had moved in earlier, which would have negated the need for the pointless sex with women.

      Reply
      • Hi Wave, thanks for your response to my comment.
        I just wanted to add that I felt that the two things that bothered you about this book form the main crux of the book. If Xan and Chris hadn’t made the stupid decision (similar to Carrick’s dumb decision in KPR) to sleep with women, it wouldn’t have lead to Chris becoming an alcoholic and subsequently having the career-ending accident. If the boys had ended up using the harem girls as a cover or even going to Penny or Leo for advice and finding a different solution, this would have been an entirely different story wouldn’t it.
        However, IMO, this is a book about two desperate and scared boys who had no role models to look up to, making an awful & erroneous decision and living with the consequences of that decision. What worked for me was that ultimately, despite the stuff life threw at them, their love for each other remained powerful and pure and constant. And they also realized that it wasn’t just the two of them vs the rest of the world anymore, they had several people rooting for them.
        :geek: Sorry for being so long winded again, I guess all I wanted to say was that this story worked for me :blush:

        Reply
        • Hi rosesarered

          I’m very happy that the story worked for you and that reinforces the belief that everyone has different tastes.

          You’re absolutely right that if these two sub plots had been changed or omitted altogether this would have been a different book. Were that the case I think it would have been IMO a much more enjoyable and believable book. For me the crux of the story is not about “Xan and Chris not having any role models and acting like scared young men” – the main story is about the love between them and their love of the game. BTW I think Chris’s father was a pretty good role model and could have given the guys advice. However, that’s all water under the bridge – the book is published and it is what it is.

          Reply
          • Hi Wave, I just wanted to clarify that by role models I meant someone else in major league sports for them to emulate.
            But I understand and appreciate that this book didn’t work for you, there are many books that I can’t bring myself to appreciate either.

            Reply
  • I had the same niggles you had Wave. The book is a very good read but I felt the angst was a bit over the top and not really realistic. The sleeping with women was weird and felt like a construct to maximize their pain, as suffering heroes. I also wonder why the girls couldn’t have moved in earlier and given a perfect cover for the guys.

    Reply
    • Saga
      You’re absolutely right IMO. The book was very good but I really couldn’t understand the strategy of having the guys sleep with women as a cover.

      I never thought of it but having the girls move in earlier would have been the perfect cover – I wonder why that was not explored?

      However we’re not authors so we can only try to rationalize what we read.

      Reply
  • I don’t mind some angst but I don’t like it when it just get piled on (a la A Red-Tainted Silence). I guess you have to be in the right mood to read them. I also don’t like it if the guys had some alternatives (using a beard, a solution that works well for many or claiming sleeping around is against their beliefs. There’s quite a few born again Christian ball players who are probably not all picking up random women). Thanks for the review.

    I’ve yet to read an Amy Lane book probably because of her angst reputation. I’ve held off on Keeping Promise Rock & Truth in the Dark because of that. Maybe I’ll try Enchanted by Bella’s Brother which seems lighter & work my way up to her tissue required books.

    Reply
    • Hi Sara
      Amy’s books are angst filled and I have a hard time with some of them. In The Locker Room there was a lot as you can tell from Xan’s background – he was mistreated until he could move out.

      I havent read Bella’s Brother but it seems to contain a little less than the usual level of angst.

      Re the strategy for the guys to pick up random women and have sex with them after every third home game – that to me was degrading. According to the book the guys’ reaction was horrible and after one such occasion Chris found Xan in the freezing shower where he had been for 45 minutes scrubbing his skin to get the feeling off until he bled. At another point Chris vomited 4 times on the way home. So tell me what was good about that?

      Reply
  • I bought the book too and I totally hear you LadyM, I was close to my limit at the amount of angst I can swallow couple of books ago. And I love angst, and in more than small doses. I actually started it right away and in a few chapters put it back. Sleeping with women when they are committed to each other? I do not know if I want to finish it myself now 🙁

    Thanks for the great review Wave.

    Reply
    • Hi Sirius
      If you like Amy Lane you will love the book because it has a lot of her trademarks – great writing and wonderful characterizations. However I don’t have as much tolerance for angst as you do so you may not be affected by it as much as I was.

      They were unbelievably committed to each other so I couldn’t understand the strategy to have them sleep around with women when there were other options available to them. But I’m not a writer so what do I know?

      Tthe best thing about the book were the two protagonists and I think you will enjoy them if you ever finish it.

      Reply
      • Maybe, however I was trying to say that as much as I love angst, I was feeling it was too much for me when I was reading her last couple of books in whatever order I bought them. See, thats the thing, all this sleeping with women from what you are saying indeed seems to be done just for the purpose of making them suffer, instead of being organic part of the story. When I am reading something angsty and i can easily suggest an easy solution to stop the angst, I start rolling my eyes a little bit. Eh use the beards guys, use the beards. Hope it makes sense, I will let you know what i thought if I ever decide to finish the book and I may.

        Reply
  • Although I bought the book, I didn’t read it yet because I’ve read about sleeping with women in one of the reviews and now I don’t know if I want to.

    While I simply adore some of Amy Lane’s books (Keeping Promise Rock and Truth in the Dark being just two of them), the amount of angst seems to be growing from book to book and now I’m pretty much at my limit. I know I will eventually read the book, but I don’t think it will be any time soon.

    Reply
    • Well LadyM
      I should tell you upfront that many of Amy’s fans love the book so I’m in the minority (when am I not)? LOL

      I too love Keeping Promise Rock and Truth in the Dark which are two of my all time favourite Amy Lane books. IMO the level of angst is increasing exponentially to the point that I can’t read one of her books straight through, however a lot of Amy’s fans eat this stuff up.

      I had no idea about the story and thought it would be mostly about the characters and the game of basketball, and was shocked when they had sex with women after every 3rd home game until they became too physically sick about it and refused to continue. Right after that Chris was traded, which made everything worse. It was like there was no silver lining except they won games.

      If you like sports then you will love a lot of the book, as I did, and at least you know beforehand about the het sex.

      Reply
    • Please read this book there is very little of the “sleeping with women” and it’s not on screen so to speak. This is just a beautiful love story,it’s not perfect but please don’t put off reading this.

      Reply
  • I loved this book. I thought the descriptions of the games were intense and moving; the heartbeat of the ball across the court was what it was all about.

    The relationship between Chris and Xander, growing up together was rather like Deacon and Crick, but because of them being the same age had even more intensity.

    Wonderful.

    Reply
    • Hi Raine

      Obviously I didn’t love the book as much as you did. I loved the games and the characters but didn’t like other aspects of the story.

      It’s a matter of personal taste and I realize that many readers will love this story and overlook some of the aspects I consider devastating or demeaning to the characters.

      As I said to Mary Calmes, I felt that Chris got a raw deal in the end. He paid almost the ultimate price for being stupid and doing what many people do when they are down – act irresponsibly. His drinking was exacerbated by having sex with women and being traded. And sure he got Xan, but he always had him.

      Reply
  • Hey Wave, great review but I didn’t have the same concerns that you did with Chris losing the ability to play basketball. I think because of the way his character was drawn throughout the course of the book, Chris was always sort of the passenger in the basketball dream. He “loved” playing it with Xander, as it was another facet of their love, but without Xander, after they are seperated and Chris was traded to Denver, he hated it. As his sister Penny says after the accident, “You being there for him- he’ll count his lucky stars he’s alive. As long as he has you, Xander, losing the gave won’t be any loss as all.” More than anything, Chris needed to go home to Xander. The accident was terrible but the way it was building, with his drinking, seemed inevitable.
    As for the beards, it seemed important, for their team mates to see them pick up these random women, as they themeselves did- all the guys, and leave with them. More than the women themselves, the ritual of it seemed what had to be done to insure that the team as the whole would work with them, support them. Later when Xander basically is the team, he can come out to those guys and they are accepting. But at the beginning, and before Chris is traded, a single woman would have been suspect because their team mates already suspected them as being gay since they lived together already. Most gay celebrities,the beard is in place to diffuse the talk before it even starts.
    That all being said, the ending, where you don’t know if Xander will be allowed to play or not in the playoffs, that’s the part I loved as well as for him, as long as he has Chris, it’s a win either way.

    Reply
    • Hi Mary

      As I said in the review, I didn’t agree with the guys, who considered themselves married, having sex with women even though it was consensual.

      In the book the effect on Chris and Xan was horrible and for that reason alone, apart from the way I felt about it, I thought it was way too much. I’m not one of those readers who is opposed to cheating in M/M books because sometimes I think it’s necessary for the characters to come together, but this wasn’t cheating, it was just awful the way it was done both to the guys and the women. Penny had lots of friends who could have been beards for Chris and Xan and there are always super models and female sports stars (some of whom are lesbian and who would have welcomed a regular escort who appeared to be their BF) but the author chose another direction. Many gay sports stars use beards today so why the approach that was used in this book which had such a devastating effect on the protagonists?

      The cliff hanger ending? Some readers love them and others don’t. I’m not big on them but it didn’t matter to me either way.

      As for Chris, I still think that he came to a terrible end in the story. Although the game didn’t mean as much to him as it did to Xan he didn’t deserve what he got – a broken body. 🙁

      Reply
  • I was really looking forward to this one. I’m not sure I can handle the amount of angst you have described Wave. The sex with the women even though off page is disturbing especially with all the negative consequences it seems to have on the couple. I’m sure I will eventually get this, but I’m in no hurry. Thanks for the great review. I think you put enough in this review for me to know this is not a book I’m in the mood for right now.

    Reply
    • I should say that a lot of readers love this book – there are enough reviews on Amazon to testify to that. However, I didn’t feel that some of the sub plots worked — at least not for me.

      Amy Lane’s books contain a huge amount of angst – that’s her trademark, and as I said in the review I can only take so much at any one time. However, she’s an exceptional writer and it all depends on what you like.

      For me the sex with women after every third home game was a downer from the word go and I didn’t recover from it, and then the accident in the end was tragic too even though Xan and Chris did have a HEA I suppose.

      Reply
  • I loved this book, but I did shake my head at the sleeping with women thing every 3rd home game. I mean haven’t Xander and Chris heard of paid beards, a standard in Hollywood? 🙂

    Other than that, I enjoyed this book for all the reasons you listed.

    Reply
    • Lasha
      I did enjoy most of the book but I couldn’t take the effect on the guys of having sex with women. What happened to beards? Every single damn gay movie star and professional sports star use them, but apparently in this book it made more sense for the guys to have sex with women. 🙁

      I also didn’t love what happened to Chris in the end — he didn’t deserve it. Again too much angst for me.

      Reply
  • I flove (fucking love) m/m sports books too, I’ll read your review when I am done I don’t wanna spoil it. 😀

    Reply

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