Reviewed by Chris
TITLE: The Long Season
AUTHOR: Michael Vance Gurley
PUBLISHER: Bold Strokes Books
LENGTH: 322 pages
RELEASE DATE: June 14, 2016
In Roaring Twenties Chicago, eighteen-year-old farm boy and hockey hopeful Brett Bennet is drafted to the big leagues of the city’s first ever team. His deepest secret catches fire when he meets the dashing but reclusive goalie, Jean-Paul Moreau. As they circle one another finding out who they truly are, their lives are changed in ways neither can control.
Brett will need the help of freewheeling flapper Margret to find a way to break through Jean-Paul’s ice, and to navigate the high stakes world of professional sports from the opening game through to the championship. Only together do they have a hope of facing the deadly threat of a man who can bring it all down with one word.
In the 1920’s the game of hockey is in flux. Teams are being born and dying in the blink of an eye, and the national leagues are not much better. But things are looking up for Brett Bennet and the town of Chicago as the Blackhawks struggle to shine in their new city. Brett, newly moved up from a minor league, is full of hope and nervous energy when he and his friend board the train to Chicago. They don’t know what to expect, but they have dreams of finally making it big in the sport they’ve devoted years of grueling work and effort into.
Yet while hockey may be the same (though faster and tougher than they have ever played before), the city itself throws them both for a loop. Brett especially. Caught in the bright lights and dingy speakeasies of the Chicago scene, Brett feels like he is losing himself. And perhaps finally being himself for the first time ever. With Jean-Paul, the team’s loner goalie, and their mutual friend Margret to help him find his way in this new world, Brett is on the brink of having everything he could ever dream: hockey, friends, and a love he can call his own.
That is, if he doesn’t lose it all to the fickle hand of fate and the not so gentle hands of his teammates.
I was so freaking excited when I came across this book in one of my late-night wanderings thru Amazon. Historical hockey, set in the 20’s, with two gay MCs. I honestly couldn’t believe my good luck. And that it was getting favorable reviews over on Goodreads, prompted me to ask if I could possibly review it for Love Bytes. I’m all for pushing my adoration of hockey books onto as many people as possible, and if I could promote this book, than I’d be more than happy.
So I have to say my expectations going into this story were very high. Perhaps too high.
Because I struggled to get into this book, and the longer I read the more my disappointment grew. It had everything it promised in the book. Hockey, Chicago nightlife, gay characters trying to find a way to live their lives in a sport and time where they were considered little more than the crap one scrapes off one’s shoe. But there seemed to be a lack of balance or sense of direction in the plot.
My first problem was that this book is 99% flashback. The story starts off with a scene at the end of the season, and almost the entire book is what happened in their lives that led up to this. I really dislike this type of “and this is how it happened” storytelling. It bugs the crap out of me. So from the beginning I was thrown off my stride. It also, and I will come back to this later, kinda ruins any climax that was to be built in the story before it even had a chance to get off the ground.
My second issue was that the first person point of view in this story doesn’t really work. Brett is, I’m sorry to say, one the the least interesting characters in this book, and to see all this from his perspective kinda made everything come out a little bland. Even the hockey (which ended up being one of the few saving graces of this book) started to get repetitive and boring by the end. Brett is just…well he is just too good at hockey. I know it is weird to say that as if it is a bad thing, but the way he was constantly saving the day, scoring all the goals, showing up all his teammates…it made it so there was no mystery in the games. One of the things I love about hockey is how things can turn on a dime and you never know where it is going to go. I didn’t find that here in this book. I always knew how things were going to go, and who was going to save the day.
And despite the few interesting aspects woven into his character (like his OCD and his upbringing) I found him less than inspiring. Mostly because it felt like those two things, which could have been better utilized, were only brought up when it became clear that the character was flatlining. I liked the moments where his counting came into play, but it felt like too much of a crutch to his bland characterization. And the abuse…well, let’s just say it seemed like an easy way out of having to write a backstory for the guy. A bit too much of the “oh look, he was abused, that’s why he’s fucked up, problem solved!” kind of thing. It felt too glossed over, to erratic at times, to come off as something I should care about. Yes he has a tragic backstory…but it seemed too generic to really catch me.
Thirdly, I can tell that the author did a lot of research for this book. Which is a good thing. Historical books require a lot of time to get them right, and you can definitely tell who put in the time and who spent a hour on wikipedia. The problem is that I could tell the author did a lot of research because they seemed to think that every part of that research then needed to be reflected in the story. There were several scenes that seemed to have no place in the overall story, but only were used to name-drop some famous historical figure. Yes the bit with the psychic was mildly interesting, and the bits with the circus performers tied back to his childhood…but what did they have to do with the overall story? With almost every single scene that wasn’t centered on hockey you could almost guarantee that somebody famous was going to drop in, with no real reason or connection to the plot. It started to look less like a story in the 20’s seen thru the eyes of a gay hockey player, and more of a game of Top Trumps, Roaring Twenties Edition. The setting is supposed to be the backdrop that makes your characters come to life, not the focus of the story itself. By all means, bring the 20’s to life, just don’t let it consume the rest of the book.
Which brings me to my last issue with this book. There were too many damn plots. You had Brett and the Nightlife, Brett and Margaret, Brett and Jean-Paul, Brett and his Internalized Homophobia, and then finally Brett and Hockey. Which all could have worked together fine. Except they could never quite agree on what was the main plot, and what were the subplots. Brett and Jean-Paul was important, but it wasn’t really the main plot because those two got less page time together than Brett and Margaret. And that plot kinda went all over the place only to land up nowhere. Brett’s adventures thru Chicago’s nightlife was too chaotic to ever resemble much of a plot, unless the point was how many famous people Brett could rub shoulders with. The struggles with homophobia were certainly constant, but they also didn’t have enough page time to really hold up the story either. So we are left with Brett and his quest for the Stanley Cup.
But wait! We already know how that turns out. From the beginning of the book, remember? That whole first chapter tells us exactly who wins, and what happens. So while the last quarter of the story was mainly about the hockey…it was all kinda pointless because we got the climax on page 1. It tried to up the ante with the addition of blackmail into the plot, but since we already know what they end up doing, that is hardly going to fix the problem.
So the only real contender for the backbone of this story is cut off at its knees before it even has a chance. That and the many twisting subplots that mainly served as distractions from this great big flaw, left a story with little momentum, hardly any depth, and a plot that tried to go everywhere and ended up nowhere instead.
There was a lot of promise in this book, but its lack of direction made it hard for me to come away with anything more than disappointment. I wish I had another wonderful hockey book to recommend to you, but alas, I am left with only the choice of offering up something that might interest you if you like a book about the various aspects of Chicago nightlife in the 1920s.