The Fictional Hockey League

Critiquing hockey romance novels, of which there are many. Overthinking it is the point.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Play the Man: Post 1

Chapter One: Introducing the Engaged Couple

I’m not sure what to expect with this novel. Body Check provided so much fodder that I’m nervous that this one will suffer by comparison. The title suggests there should be cross-dressing, Twelfth Night style hijinks but I’m pretty damn sure that’s not the case, alas. Also, this is the third book in a series, I believe, and I have not read the first two.

The cover blurb: Jenna couldn’t be more thrilled: after eight years of dating, she finally gets to marry her college sweetheart and dream man, Chicago Blackhawks Captain Ryan Lisenbigler. While Ryan loves his fiancée more than he can say, he’s in no rush to get to the altar. As they struggle with their differing attitudes towards their upcoming wedding, Ryan’s teammate Nick battles with his newfound, taboo feelings of infatuation for Jenna. Emotions run high, and soon Jenna, Ryan, and Nick each finding themselves having to make very difficult decisions regarding what they want in love—and life—and what they’re willing to do in order to get it.

Okay, reading that synopsis vaguely hints at a threesome, but I suspect that’s as unlikely as wacky cross-dressing hijinks. Sadface.

Let’s talk about the cover for a moment because it’s interesting. If you are unable to see the image I’ll describe it. It’s a drawing, with a pink circle in the middle which might be a pale version of a face-off dot, but I can’t guarantee that that’s true because there’s also a line through the circle. In the center there is a ring with a large pink gem. On either side is what I think is a hockey stick but they are incredibly oddly shaped. They might be sticks as seen from above at a faceoff. The sticks are wood, though, which makes very little sense for a contemporary novel, and have white tape wrapped around the blades. Irregular not-quite-cursive words sprawl across the entire cover, reading “PLAY” and “MAN” in large text and “the” in very small text inside the ring. The M and N of “MAN” curl around the hockey sticks’ blades.

The overall appearance of the font suggests nothing so much as an octopus. That might be hockey related, had the book been about the Detroit Redwings, given the unfortunate tradition of that team’s fans tossing octopi onto the ice, but in actuality this book is about the Chicago Blackhawks. The coloration loudly declares that this is a “chick lit” book.

As with our previous novel, the first chapter accomplishes the introductions, although unlike Body Check we meet three main characters. The entirety of the first chapter takes place in a bar, but much of it is less scene and more holy-carp-backstory, which isn’t as exciting as it could be.

Our main character, Jenna, is contemplating her new engagement ring, which leads to the masses of backstory. When the blurb says that Jenna is “finally” marrying her college sweetheart, it isn’t kidding. They’ve been together already for eight years, having met at Dartmouth. After Jenna graduated, Ryan was already playing for the Blackhawks and asked her to join him in Chicago, which the narrative assures us was his way of proposing commitment.

Evidently it took his mother’s interference for him to finally propose. In fact, she packed the picnic basket “with sparkling white wine, chocolates, cheese, and fruit” and sent them out for fireworks.

For reasons unclear to me, at this point the text switches to italics. I assume it’s supposed to be a flashback, as it’s the scene of Ryan asking Jenna to marry him, complete with dialogue and such, but it’s still odd since it was already set up by the non-italicized bit earlier explain his mother set things up. Since the scene is from Jenna’s perspective, I’m not sure how she could have known that about Ryan’s mother.

The overwhelming emotion that comes through in the description of Ryan’s proposal is relief. Relief that finally he’d made it official, of course, since Jenna had been waiting around for so long. But also relief that she hadn’t disappointed her parents.

…they hated how he wouldn’t make the big commitment to their daughter, and they didn’t appreciate that she was willing to wait this long to get one. Her mother and father had a hard time explaining to their socialite friends that their daughter still hadn’t married the man she had been dating since her freshman year of college (6 emphasis original).

I can understand putting in a lot of time into something and not wanting to stop because you’ve already put that first amount of time in. But it reads like this is why Jenna has stayed, mostly through inertia and a fear of having wasted time. This pressure from her parents is equally problematic. Why should Jenna care if her parents have trouble with their “socialite friends”? She’s not there with them. One should not base one’s life decisions on one’s parents’ opinions, particularly when their opinions are based on difficulty with their snobby friends. Apparently her parents even pressured her to give Ryan an ultimatum.

But, now she’s engaged and she is at a bar along with the entire Chicago Blackhawks team, celebrating. Except she’s not really celebrating because she’s not particularly into crowds or bars. Also, the Blackhawks seem like asshats.

All right, let me back up here. The real life, our world, NHL Chicago Blackhawks are my least favorite NHL team in part because they really do seem like asshats. Also, their fans, at least when they come to my team’s arena, are jerks. Doesn’t matter if their team wins or loses, they’re awful to the opposing team’s fans.

So that may color my view of the fictional Blackhawks in this book, but I kind of don’t think so.

…but she knew the guys were horrible tippers. They weren’t stingy, by any means, but they just didn’t understand that the concept of twenty percent didn’t compute when they left the place trashed in their wake (7 emphasis original).

Specifically, Ryan seems to be a bit of an asshat, too. Or, perhaps more accurately very self-absorbed.

For example, Ryan’s choice of engagement ring for Jenna is entirely not her style—she describes it as his. The narrative tells us that Jenna “was a simple girl” and that a “traditional solitaire” would have fit her personality best. What Ryan chose better suited him, as “outgoing and boisterous and, yes, a little gaudy” (7).

It was a cushion-cut, two-and-a-half carat pink diamond set in white gold, in a diamond-encrusted micro-pave mounting (7).

I don’t know what half of that means (and I don’t currently have internet access to look it up) but starting with pink and ending in encrusted, it sounds pretty awful to me.

When the scene switches to Ryan’s perspective, the narrative tells us that he thinks Jenna “was a drag when she came out with the boys” and he enjoys himself more without her. He calls her “uptight” and not “sexy, but rather…a classic beauty” (10). His reason for waiting so long to ask Jenna to marry him is that he’s “only twenty-seven” (emphasis original). Later, we see that “Ryan grabbed his Jenna’s hand” (12). His possessiveness via the narrative is disturbing.  It must be an authorial choice in that without “his” there it reads just as clearly. (There are no other Jennas in the scene.)

Oddly, the narrative slips into Jenna’s POV for a moment and while that’s not particularly consistent writing, the little blip tells readers a lot about this couple.

Ryan took his seat…then he snaked an arm around her waist and pulled her into his lap. Jenna thought it was too intimate of a position for present company, but he wouldn’t let her get up (12).

Again, Ryan is staking his claim on Jenna, just as with the enormous engagement ring, his inner thoughts calling her “his,” and putting her on his lap in front of all of his teammates, including his best friend who had been flirting with her. He isn’t too concerned about her leaving him. His reaction to his mother telling him that he might lose her was that “Jenna was so much a part of him that she would never leave him or do anything to hurt him” (10) so his claim isn’t to keep her with him; it’s too show her off, to show everyone else what he has. She’s valued as an object.

When Jenna goes to get another beer for Ryan, we get further insight into this relationship and how Ryan values his fiancée.

Even after eight years together, she had never stopped putting in the effort needed to maintain their relationship. She didn’t come home after a long day and immediately put on ugly, frumpy sweatpants. She cooked all his meals… (14).

All of this would be fine, particularly as we also learn that he’s very attracted to her and considers her a “caring, loving, thoughtful woman (14). However, we don’t see any reciprocation. When Jenna describes Ryan, it’s in terms of her love for him. This strikes me as a terrible relationship, which I think is the author’s intent, and not worth saving, which I’m not sure is the author’s intent.

This third break of the chapter switches perspectives several times (Ryan pages 9-12, Nick (one of the teammates) 12, Jenna 12, Nick 12, Jenna 12-13, Ryan 13, Jenna 13, Nick 14, Jenna 15.) You could argue, I suppose, that this scene has simply become omniscient, but there’s no division between the 3 pages of Ryan’s perspective into omniscient the way that there is between the section of Jenna’s POV or Nick’s. It’s distracting, and frankly an editor ought to have taken it out. And yet, there’s important character information conveyed here, more so than in the single-perspective scenes that rely so heavily on flashback. Still, jumping from head to head, perspective to perspective, is distracting and problematic, and I sincerely hope it doesn’t continue throughout the novel.

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