Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"Rocking the Boat"

Review - "Rocking the Boat" by Christopher Koehler

Great story about doing the right thing and love

Highly Recommended

Nick Bedford is one busy man.  He is the coach of the California Pacific College rowing team, is in grad school, teaches and works off season in construction just to get by.  Approaching 30, he is still a very fit man, and could still row on one of the teams he coaches.  And he is gay and in the closet.  And more and more, he finds himself thinking about one of the members of his team.

Morgan Estrada is on scholarship at CalPac, majoring in Comp Lit and rows for Coach Bedford on the men's 8's.  Part of the reason he keeps rowing?  He has a bit of a crush on his coach.  While he is not out of the closet completely, he isn't in completely either.  But when he sees a man he likes, he goes after him.

There are two months before the biggest competition of the year for the CalPac team, and Nick isn't going to allow any distractions to get in the way of pushing his team to their limits, and winning.  And while there is one huge distraction is his way - tall, handsome Morgan - his professional ethics will not allow him to act on his attraction.  And Morgan might not even be gay.  And he doesn't have time for this.

When Morgan sets his sights on Nick, will he set them both up for heartbreak?  Or is love possible?

This well written, beautifully detailed and very satisfying tale of love between two men who, by all rights, should not be together is handled with a gentle hand by Christopher Koehler.  He has taken a subject that has been covered by many different writers in many different ways - the relationship between a coach and an athlete that turns romantic - and brings a new insight into the struggle between what the heart wants and what the right thing to do may be.  In many ways, it reminds me of "The Front Runner", but Patricia Nell Warren; the thoughtful slow build of a relationship between two men who find themselves in love but have to ask themselves, is it the right thing to do.

Mr. Koehler has created a wealth of interesting and vital characters here.  Nick and Morgan are wonderfully complex, and as they struggle with their attraction to each other and the not knowing - if each other is gay, if it's the right thing to do - they show more and more shades of their personalities.  And show very human flaws.  The secondary characters, such as Drew, bring bright colors to the canvas and make these two more and more human and believable.

There is great tension is this story.  The rules governing student athletes and their coaches are in place for a reason, as is shown with so much relevance in the situations currently with Penn State and Syracuse occupying so much of the news.  As Nick and Morgan are forced to ask themselves, should they enter into a relationship that is consensual and between two adults, the reader is forced to examine those questions also.  If it is driven by the athlete, should the rules apply so strictly.  Or is, in fact, the power imbalance so black and white that the student, and indeed the coach, should be protected at all costs?  It can be argued both ways, and there is no easy answer. 

And the tension between being "out" and being closeted.  Athletes perhaps find it the hardest to be out without consequences, rightly or wrongly.  Nick's struggle with to be out to his crew causes him great pain, but also puts great strain on his relationship with Morgan.  Morgan has had an easier path being out with his family, but Nick has different and more complex issues to take into consideration.  Again, the reader is forced to look inside and ask hard questions for himself.

And that is one of the great strengths of this book.  There are no easy answers.  Nick and Morgan struggle and accept and fight and look around for answers and make huge mistakes and cause pain to each other.  But that is how life works.  It is messy and a struggle and there are great highs and terrible lows and we just ride the wonderful roller coaster and take a deep breath and make our way through.  We hope we make the right choices and don't cause too much damage along the way.  Just like in real life.

Because at the end of the day, the wonderful thing about this book is its believability.  Nick and Morgan are two guys I have met in my life.  They struggle, work, play, want, love, make mistakes, cry, laugh, and make me want to know them and, most of all, care about them.

I liked these guys.  And I like what Mr. Koehler has crafted here - a fine story of two men who find each other and create something good together.

Well done.


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