by Lorrie Kim
Originally posted to rec.sport.skating.ice.figure on June 26, 1999
In a nutshell: [pleasantly surprised expression] Not bad.
The novel's author, Maynard F. Thomson, is a lawyer from Ohio. Not necessarily your best guarantees for a bicultural skating novel set mostly in Japan. But he pulls it off. He pulls off the Japanese culture, with remarkably few false notes. He pulls off skating details with very good authenticity and very few errors, much better than most non-skating authors and more fearlessly geeky than most skating authors (who seem to be afraid of losing their audience the moment they mention a three-turn). Most impressively of all, he pulls off the tensions of a cross-cultural marriage and biracial child. That last I found very ambitious and executed with satisfyingly deep subtlety.
But I don't mean to scare off readers by sounding so dry. I meant only to commend Thomson for his research. It's quite well-written and as entertaining as any beach novel you're likely to read this summer. I perversely enjoyed the ghoulish relationship between the rival and her sicko coach. The skating descriptions involved me so I could hear the music and feel the program (main character Maggie's Olympic program is to "Firebird," a nod to Thomson's advisor Tonia Kwiatkowski). The story is not formulaic, not even the romance part -- good for Thomson. Some of the characters are very rich in ways familiar to all skating fans: the weak-willed boyfriend seduced by skating's power and money, the Yoda-like old coach.
There are a few wicked little digs that skating fans will enjoy. Maggie avoids a reception, dreading how "Red-faced, middle-aged skating fanatics would try to fondle her, while their wives showed off their cleavages and ogled Clay. Thirty seconds after some coach had deposited the four hundredth unwelcome kiss, she'd hear him telling someone she used drugs or slept with girls." The Terry Gannon-like character is described as "never venturing an opinion until he knew it was safe." A thinly disguised Mike Burg comes in for some ribbing. Best of all, there's a Dick Button character who is rendered with loving precision. I challenge anyone to read "Lofton Weeks"'s dialogue without hearing it in Uncle Dick's voice.
My two biggest complaints: Thomson perpetuates the misconception that judges penalize skaters for using old programs. And in the acknowledgements, he says Kwiatkowski failed to teach him to understand scoring, but "no one else understands it either, including the judges." Argh! Not true! I hope it was just that Thomson failed to understand, not that the venerable Ms. Kwiatkowski doesn't understand scoring.
But these are truly small complaints, and Thomson got so much right. It was a good read throughout. My highest compliment is that I long to see real skaters performing the programs he describes in the book's climax. They sounded divine.