The Fictional Hockey League

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

Friday, October 31, 2014

Play the Man: Post 21

Chapter Fourteen: Why would you insult maple syrup?

Nick’s Concussion of Convenience continues while Ryan is out of town, to the point where Jenna has to miss classes in order to be with Nick. (Frankly, she should have just taken him with her. Or, for that matter, they’re in Chicago. There are other wives and girlfriends of teammates. Surely someone out there could take care of Nick for a bit. Grad students have to go to class.)

But of course the plot requires an excuse to throw Nick and Jenna together. While making breakfast, she continues to lament how she can’t forget what happened with Nick (less than 24 hours ago), then when he joins her, they make French toast together.

“You Canadians and your maple syrup. It’s disgusting the way you guys eat that stuff,” Jenna chuckled (92).

Let me start by saying I adore maple syrup (not breakfast syrup, maple syrup). And yes, of course it’s a clichéd Canadian thing. (Note: I am not Canadian.) But what a weird thing to find disgusting. Especially when you’re making French toast.

Nick burns said French toast and Jenna’s response is that that’s why he’s a hockey player. Apparently being “worthless in the kitchen” means he “can whiz around on sharp pieces of metal on a slippery surface and put a tiny black disc into a guarded net” (92). Really, the two don’t seem all that connected. (Also? I’m a terrible cook but I can make French toast. This factoid is irrelevant, but true.)

Ryan comes home from the away game (they beat the Wild) and crawls into bed with Jenna. Nick is still at the house, actually because Ryan insisted that he stay until the team’s return, so right after she initiates sex with Ryan in the morning, Jenna hints that he take Nick home first, then they can spend the rest of the day in bed. Ryan instead suggests that he take Nick home later, when they want a break from sex. Jenna goes off the deep end in anger, gets up, gets dressed, and tells Ryan he can jerk himself off.

Jenna has been with Ryan for eight years and didn’t see his refusal coming? I can’t even blame Ryan for his confusion over her moodswing on this one.

So Jenna pounds on Nick’s door and basically kicks him out of the house. While waiting for Nick to get dressed, she slams around the living room where Ryan left his travel gear and complains about it, then snaps at Nick to ask if he’s ready. I know I’ve been saying and saying that I want Jenna to realize that Ryan is a douchebag and leave him, and I guess this could be a step in the right direction, but I genuinely don’t think it is. This seems to be more a manifestation of her own guilt and thinking that if Nick is out of the house, she won’t think about him or their time together anymore and then it’ll be as if it never happened. And that kind of magical thinking is the stuff we tell ourselves all the time, so I get it, but it’s out of character for Jenna

Her mood flips again, back to creepy-maternal, when they get to Nick’s apartment and she follows him in and cleans out his fridge.

Evidently, cleaning out his fridge (not a euphemism!) is somehow Very Important because it entices Jenna to look Nick in the eye for the first time since they had sex. Which suggests some seriously awkward moments while they’ve been non-stop together since then. Apparently saving up all that eye contact leads to an overload because when they do meet each other’s gaze, “the world seemed to stop” and then there’s some trite language about magnets and how they’re unable to stay apart.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Play the Man: Post 20

Chapter Thirteen: These Characters Sap My Will to Live

What to say about this next scene? Really, it’s mostly Ryan complaining to himself, assuming that the problem is the wedding and thinking he deserves credit for taking a whole 30 minutes to (finally) put together the guest list that Jenna has been asking for for months. The perspective then leaps to Jenna who agrees that they should forget all the bad stuff that has happened lately and try to go back to how things were—which in her mind means she should also forget the sex with Nick and never tell Ryan. Then, to seal the deal, they have sex.

Some of the language here is troubling, though.

It felt wrong to be doing this with Ryan so soon after doing it with Nick, but she was afraid to stop him (85).

The next sentence explains that if she stops Ryan from having sex, he would know that something was wrong. Yet I’m troubled by the word “afraid”, particularly since just five pages ago Jenna is afraid of what Ryan might do to her or to Nick upon learning of her infidelity. She spends the next two paragraphs trying to get his attention in order to get him to stop, despite the above mentioned fear. But Ryan takes it as encouragement. And when he pushes, it makes Jenna “give up and cede to him” (85). That is also problematic. Ceding her body to him, because he wants sex and she doesn’t? (But she feels guilty so she cedes to him?) This relationship is dysfunctional in a lot of ways right on the surface, and the subtext is making it even more troubling.

Jenna asks Ryan to “make love” to her, rather than simply having sex, because she feels that it would means something more than their usual cycle of fighting, making up, and having sex. But at first Ryan doesn’t understand what she wants and when he does, he’s unwilling to take the time. He uses the excuse that he has to leave soon for an away game. Seriously? This irritates me. And yeah, it’s supposed to—this moment with Ryan is supposed to contrast to the worship Jenna felt from Nick. Ryan takes what wants and only barely even tries to understand what Jenna wants, both in this moment and throughout their relationship.

Nick overhears almost everything, from Jenna and Ryan’s conversation to the sex afterward, and it makes him feel sick.

Jenna was choosing Ryan. After their amazing moments spent together, she was choosing Ryan over him (87).

Well, yeah. She’s been with Ryan 8 years and just had a moment with Nick over which she feels incredibly guilty. One passionate embrace, no matter how worshiped Jenna felt, is not going to make this woman in particular throw over her fiancé. Nick is an idiot for thinking it was even a remote possibility at this moment. Besides which, Jenna doesn’t even know that there is a choice to be made. As far as she knows, Nick just wanted sex in that moment.

Ryan leaves the house to head off to play the Minnesota Wild the next day and says “Take care of yourself and rest up” to Nick (88). Evidently, Nick feels that this is somehow a demeaning comment, “a backhanded jab at him” because (subconsciously??) Ryan knows that he’s won (this battle for Jenna that he didn’t know was going on.) For all that the narrative continuously assures us that Nick is calm and cool and collected, I don’t actually see it often.

Nick decides to confront Jenna again, because frankly what the heck else is this book going to do to fill 80 more pages. She insists again that she doesn’t want Ryan to know.

[Nick] supposed it was his fate, to always pine after what he couldn’t have (90).

That’s odd because, well, the narrative has never shown us (or even told us) that this is something Nick is used to. Yes, we know that his childhood was difficult, but he’s a freakin’ NHL player. At this point, there actually isn’t much he can’t have. Jenna’s affections are apparently one of those things but one doesn’t make a pattern.

The chapter ends with Jenna upset that she can’t seem to forget the sex with Nick even though she’d told herself (and Ryan) that she’d forget all the stuff that had happened since summer. I don’t know about you, but I think it’s just a tiny bit unrealistic for Jenna to think she could forget the sex, especially just a couple hours after it happened! Yes, Jenna, how dare you have short term memory of an experience you found deeply moving in multiple ways!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Play the Man: Post 19

Chapter Twelve: Anti-climax

Last post, and last chapter, we left Nick and Jenna staring at the ceiling, pondering what they’d just done, when suddenly they hear the front door open and know that it’s Ryan. So naturally we start chapter 12 with Ryan drinking beer.

I imagine you’re confused. I know I was. The entire rest of the book up until this point (77 pages in out of 165) has been completely linear. Perspectives have jumped awkwardly, but other than the occasional flashback (in chapter 1), scenes have always followed chronologically. However, this time the narrative takes us back to when Nick and Jenna have just left for the Art Institute and Ryan has gone out drinking and eating with Alex.

As per usual, they’re complaining about Jenna. Ryan points out that Jenna is still angry at him because of Alex’s calling her “Gollum.” Alex argues that that’s insane since Jenna should be mad at him for the comment, not Ryan. Both of them completely miss the point.

But it does mean that Ryan has started actually contemplating the situation, since Jenna has barely spoken to him in the four days since the “Gollum Incident” and he wants the relationship to be the way it used to be (77). Sure, who doesn’t want a relationship where the other partner takes care of you, never insists on anything, and everything is comfortable? At any rate, Ryan declares that this distance between them makes him want to fix whatever the problem is. However, he’s still a jerk.

He was willing to overlook how he felt Jenna needed to apologize for trying to guilt him into appeasing her… (77).

Gee. How magnanimous. It takes him a few more pages to decide that he needs to head back home and figure out what’s actually wrong and make it right. I’d tell you more about those pages but they’re repetitious. And besides, we all want to see what happens when Ryan gets home and discovers his fiancé with his teammate, right?

When they hear Ryan, Jenna and Nick burst into action, with Nick running to the guest room and Jenna putting on a robe. That’s the most amount of action we’ll see, however, since then Jenna spends many paragraphs contemplating how she could have made such a choice as to sleep with Nick, how Nick makes her feel wanted and connected, how much she hates herself for cheating on Ryan, and how weak she must be.

So, Ryan doesn’t catch them in the act. However, apparently he can smell sex in the air. Jenna assumes, at first, that he knows she’s slept with Nick, but it turns out that Ryan just assumes that Jenna pleasured herself. This leads to a rather convoluted twist of logic for him.

But she was obviously feeling lonely and horny, and she took matters into her own hands, literally, and got herself off instead of caving and giving into [sic] him. Instead of letting their fight slide, she tried to pretend that she didn’t need Ryan and keep up the appearance that she was okay without him. But she wasn’t; she had needs that she needed him to fulfill. That meant that Jenna’s anger was wavering and faltering, and this frustrating battle of wills was going to end (80).

Ryan has quite a few mistakes here, in my opinion. First, even if he’s right that Jenna is just horny, why would she “need” him to satisfy her? He’s assuming that she masturbated—intercourse and masturbation aren’t the same thing, of course, but Ryan’s the one who assumes she’s taken care of matters, which indicates she doesn’t, in fact, need him. From this assumption that Jenna needs sex, specifically from him, he jumps to concluding that she needs sex (from him) so badly that she’ll forgive him now. But this doesn’t really follow.

Jenna wavers back and forth about whether to confess to him once she realizes that he doesn’t know what happened.

She was afraid of what he was going to do, to her or to Nick (80).

This sounds violent. Does Jenna think that Ryan will hurt her or Nick if he finds out what happened? Sure, he’d have every right to be incredibly angry, but in my opinion, if you fear for your safety from your partner, even under unusual circumstances, there’s something wrong.

Nick’s reasoning isn’t much better than that of the unhappy couple. First, he worries that Jenna might think he’d taken advantage of her. Then, a page later, he compares Jenna to a drug addict, because she “repeatedly hurt herself by making the wrong choices” and knowing that she’d be better off without Ryan. In fact, he declares that having sex with her “was Nick’s intervention,” that he was showing her an alternative (81).

Oh Nick, you disappoint me. Really? REALLY? Intervention? Do you even like Jenna?

Nick finally decides that he needs to tell Ryan what happened and face him “like a man”, in order to prove that he’s the man Jenna deserves, no matter what reaction (81).

With one deep breath he grabbed the doorknob and opened the portal into his unknown and uncertain future (82).

Apparently Nick has been visiting the Department of Redundancy Department. Unknown AND uncertain?

He runs into Jenna who convinces him not to tell Ryan, at least for now. Then the point of view changes again and Ryan returns and gives Jenna his guest list. Because apparently that’s what he’s taken to be the big problem. Methinks Ryan is missing the forest for the trees and also, what have I said multiple times? Oh right, too little, too late. And for once, Jenna seems to agree. She doesn’t fall into his arms gratefully. Instead, the chapter ends with her still confused as to whether she wants to tell him the truth, whether she wants to marry him, and what the guilt of her actions might mean. (Which means 90 more pages of wibbling before she and Nick get together, I assume.)