Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

REVIEW: Out in the Field by Kate McMurray

Dear Ms. McMurray.

I picked up your book because of a recommendation by someone whose taste I trust and because I liked the excerpt. The story was cute, but the flaws outweighed the cuteness for me.

OutintheFieldCoverThis is a book about Being a Gay Athlete. This was NOT a romance. Oh, it had a love story in it and the love story had an HEA, but that HEA was never threatened. There was no barrier, no conflict, no tension integral TO the love story. The barrier/conflict/tension was all located in the Being a Gay Athlete story.

First up: I know nothing about baseball. Nothing. I actively dislike baseball, in fact. So I mostly skimmed details about the games. I’ve invited Sunita to comment on those aspects of the story in particular (but also on whatever else she wants to say).

The story is thus: Matt Blanco is a Hall-of-Fame worthy first baseman with the Brooklyn Eagles in his fourteenth season. His knee hurts, a lot. And he’s very very closeted. Ignacio Rodriguez is the Hot New Thing who has just been traded to the Eagles as their new third baseman. Matt might be fifteen years older than Iggy, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t appreciate precisely how hot Iggy actually is. There’s a little bit of lust for a chapter, then they both figure out the other’s gay in chapter 2. Which seemed a bit quick to me. Then they quickly get together.

The book takes place over four years and includes Matt’s coming out post-retirement and Iggy’s while still playing. Like Sunita (see below), I thought both of those were well done (except in that Matt wrote a book and the day before the book released in stores was when he came out for the first time. I just don’t believe that the secret would have been kept to that point). I like that the book doesn’t try to schmoosh everything into one season. I like that a lot.

However, I was frustrated by many things in this book. The “gee, shucks, little ole me?” stuff from both men got old pretty quickly. Both of them have obscene amounts of money and obscene endorsement contracts, and they just “want to play ball”:

Iggy rubbed his head. “This was easier when the hardest decision I had to make was whether or not I’d pose holding a bat in my baseball card photo.”

“I know, but these are all excellent opportunities. You’ll gain more visibility with fans, which puts more of those fans in the stadium, which gets you more favorable treatment from the Eagles front office. Everything is linked.”

“With money.”

Chris scoffed. “Don’t be like that. It’s part of the game, Ig. You signed your name on that contract knowing that.”

“I know. I’m sorry. I’m really grateful for all this. It’s just completely overwhelming.” Although, now that he’d said it, he wasn’t sure “grateful” was really the right word. He supposed he was happy enough that people wanted to give him money. And really, if having too much money was his only problem, he was happy to take it.

“You’re kind of a sex symbol, you know,” Chris said. “You could be cultivating your female fans.”

Iggy sighed. “Is it a cliché to say I just want to play baseball?”

Yes, in fact, it really really is. And just seemed utterly disingenuous to me, on the writer’s part, not on Iggy’s. The character has to be sympathetic, so god forbid he actually be money-aware. Just easier to make his aw-shucks-y instead.

The telling, not showing was most frustrating for me, though. At one point, Matt’s knee gives out on him during sex. The next day, he’s thinking about it:

 Matt still regretted having to put the brakes on their session the night before, but it couldn’t have been helped. He was embarrassed, too, that Iggy now knew about the knee. He hadn’t wanted Iggy to know, hadn’t wanted to lose face in front of him. He’d wanted to be a whole man for Iggy, a strong man. He wanted to live up to the image Iggy had worshipped for years. But now Iggy had seen his weakness. [ . . . ] Matt dug his sneakers out of his locker and eavesdropped on the conversations around him. A few more players trickled in and roamed around, some idly talking about plans for the evening. Matt mostly wanted to go home and ice his knee. And, he found, he wanted Iggy to come with him. Not even for sex—Matt didn’t think he could make his knee work well enough for that anyway—but just to hang out and talk with. The cat was really out of the bag now. It was kind of a relief not to have to pretend with Iggy that everything was hunky-dory.

Really? This could have been…so much better done. This was rarely hinted at in the lead-up to the scene, and it could have been a site for serious tension between Iggy and Matt until Iggy assured Matt that of course he cared that Matt was injured, but only in so far as he wanted to be able to help and support him…or something similar. Instead, it’s a throwaway couple of paragraphs and then ignored.

And then there’s the fact that the whole thing was about Being a Gay Athlete. EVERYTHING had to do with this. Every scene, every tension, every decision, every discussion, every plot point, almost every sex scene, it seemed. It got tiring and a bit boring. But if readers like that sort of this, then this is the book for them.

If I were to compare this book to anything, it’d be Amy Lane’s The Locker Room (basketball, not baseball), but I think that book did a much better job of making the tension of being closeted into something that almost tears the heroes apart. This book tries to, but doesn’t quite get there.

One thing I will say, boy, you can write great sex scenes. The writing soared during the sex:

Iggy dug his fingers into Matt’s back. Matt thrust his hips forward, and their cocks rubbed together. God. God. Goose bumps broke out everywhere, and Matt groaned, his heart rate and anticipation mounting. He knew sweet release would come disastrously fast, but he didn’t care much. This was so damn good, and Iggy seemed to be right there with him, grunting and biting now.

Except for the unnecessary “sweet” here, I loved this scene. Most of the sex was very well done.

Overall, this book could have been so much better. The characters themselves were great. I really enjoyed watching them have dates together, to be honest, when they were just talking. But the book as a whole never really gelled for me, mainly because I could see the potential there and was frustrated with what was should have been there, rather than with what existed.

Grade: C

 

Sunita: This book is a great example of how two readers can see entirely different things in a story. My grade is not that different from Sarah’s, but for very different reasons, and I would recommend this book for certain readers.

First, the baseball. I know the author is a big baseball fan (she talks about it in the front matter of this book, among other places), and so I was looking forward to a romance that got the sports right. In some parts she succeeds, but in others, not so much. The camaraderie of professional athletes is really well done. I enjoyed the locker room scenes with the other members of the team, and a later scene in the hospital was just terrific, in part because the author took it in a totally different direction than I expected. But I had two gripes about other aspects, as well as a third I share with Sarah. The shared gripe is that their salaries are barely mentioned. These dudes are really rich. We all know what star athletes get paid, and even the MLB minimum is nothing to sneeze at. So can we please not pretend that they’re anything other than totally loaded? Make it something Iggy is getting used to, but don’t treat it as unimportant.

My big complaint is that the protagonists don’t seem to concentrate very much when they’re in a game, or in the late season and playoffs. They wind up in the ALCS, but they’re thinking about their romance. When they walk up to the plate, they’re thinking about each other or something related. When they’re in the field, they’re making eyes at each other. Really? Once in a while, okay. But it happens over and over again. It really detracted from the verisimilitude of some of the scenes. Pro athletes spend their entire lives preparing to get to the top. That takes a very high level of focus and compartmentalization (for most of them).

My small complaint is that the strategy within the games, which is sometimes important for the plot, sometimes doesn’t make sense. When Matt hurts his knee, it’s when he breaks from third to home. On an infield popup with one out. That kind of boneheaded running play would get you chewed out in Little League, let alone MLB. And there are other descriptions of play that had me shaking my head. It’s tough to satisfy both baseball aficionados and those who don’t care, and mostly the author does a good job. Perhaps because of that, the little things stood out.

OK, the romance. Unlike Sarah, I definitely thought this was a genre romance. Maybe it wasn’t executed as well as it could have been, but I saw both internal and external conflicts. The problems of being a gay athlete are analogous to external conflicts in historical romances, e.g., class, race, religion, and another similarity is the way in which external issues create internal conflicts to be resolved.

One of the reasons sports settings work so well in m/m is that the closet is a requirement, not an option, in most (male) professional team sports. The fear of being discovered, the fear of your teammates turning on you, all that is very real and ever-present. And I thought the age difference and the fact that they were at opposite ends of their careers made for an interesting internal conflict, giving it a Star Is Born quality. The internal conflict wasn’t as well developed as it could have been, and I would have liked to see more of Matt’s post-baseball issues and how they affected the couple. I did think the two big coming-out scenes were really well done. I’ve read two earlier books by this author, I felt these scenes were far better integrated here.

Matt and Iggy were thoroughly appealing characters, which again is a feature of this author’s books (I have liked every one of her main characters). They could have been a little less loveable, to be honest. And a couple of the supporting characters verged on stereotypes (please, authors, middle-aged mothers do not have to be From Hell or From Heaven).

I can see why so many readers loved this book. Once I got over my baseball-related niggles and there were more interactions with the other baseball team members, I quite enjoyed the story.

Grade: B-

~SarahF

AmazonBNSonyKoboARE

Sarah F. is a literary critic, a college professor, and an avid reader of romance -- and is thrilled that these are no longer mutually exclusive. Her academic specialization is Romantic-era British women novelists, especially Jane Austen, but she is contributing to the exciting re-visioning of academic criticism of popular romance fiction. Sarah is a contributor to the academic blog about romance, Teach Me Tonight, the winner of the 2008-2009 RWA Academic Research Grant, and the founder and President of the International Association of the Study of Popular Romance (IASPR). Sarah mainly reviews BDSM romance and gay male romance and hopes to be able to beat her TBR pile into submission when she has time to think. Sarah teaches at Fayetteville State University, NC.

14 Comments

  1. Sirius
    May 07, 2012 @ 14:07:45

    I loved this book and as I mentioned elsewhere, this is the first book which actually convinced me that baseball may be something else than the dullest sports game on the planet ever ;). Not that I fell in love with the baseball, but I thought that the energy surrounding it may actually make this game worth watching. And I guess I am also more with Sunita in a sense that I saw plenty of external and internal tension between the main characters? I dont know, I just know that this goes to my favorite reads of the year so far. But I am also getting very very tired of most of Amy Lane’s heavy angst and much prefer this one if that makes sense. Locker room was the book I hated. Anyway, thank you for the review.

  2. Sirius
    May 07, 2012 @ 14:15:55

    Sunita, I also wanted to ask and this is just out of curiosity and not to doubt your reaction, since I know Zero to nothing about baseball. Why do you think it was not believable that they would think about each other while playing? Simply because so much money is at stake for them and they better be concentrating and putting the personal matters out of the mind or for other reasons? I mean, I know that when I have something bothering me in my life, it is sometimes quite hard for me to concentrate at work. Of course I try, but I guess for me it goes into “easier said than done” and was quite realistic and believable. I usually like to talk about the book which affected me be it positive or negative way, so this is the only reason I am asking the question, please feel free to ignore of course, I am really worried that it may be taken as doubting your reaction to the book.

  3. jmc
    May 07, 2012 @ 20:24:56

    I downloaded a sample of this book. The mental lusting was pretty noticeable even in the sample, enough so that in addition with a couple other baseball-related things, I was unwilling to buy a copy of the book. Your review makes me think that maybe if I’m jonesing for a sports romance, I’ll reconsider but it won’t be high on my TBB list.

  4. Sunita
    May 07, 2012 @ 22:11:16

    @Sirius: That’s a great question, and I went back and forth about this. Baseball is a long season (162 games plus spring training plus playoffs), and there is a lot of down time in the game itself. If you watch a game, you’ll see players eyeing people in the stands, fielders talking to runners, and so on. So I totally believe it could happen sometimes. But there was just too much in the story.

    Professional athletes have incredible focus and concentration, more than the rest of us, or they wouldn’t be where they are. They are also intensely competitive, obviously. Both of these factors were underplayed in favor of showing how in lust and then in love they were. I realize this is a romance, and I could make this criticism of a lot of novels. But since we have two men, I would love to see these attributes explored in the context of a relationship.

    I think it bothered me because I felt that in elevating the lusting and downplaying their professional attributes and commitments, the author wound up with a less compelling relationship and characters than she would have if she had gone down that road. If it had been a worse book, or I had less regard for McMurray as an author, I doubt I would have paid as much attention.

  5. Anne
    May 08, 2012 @ 01:02:05

    One day I would love myself an educated post on why there are such differences between how US readers and European ones perceive sex scenes. Seriously.

    The scene you cite is utterly boring, dull, completely unsexy and the writing so clunky and unsympathetic of sexual activity and eroticism that I can’t even begin to guess why you included it as a sample of “great sex scenes”. It’s a dime a dozen and can be found exactly like that in thousands of romances with equally boring, unerotic sex.

    I say this because every time a book gets advertised as containing well-written, highly erotic sex these are invariably such boring, clunky scenes reduced to a manual of what goes where how fast and entirely inept or non-existant descriptions of emotions and sensations.

    I say this also because whoever among my mostly European friends I ask they find those scenes equally dull and unerotic, and whatever it is, it makes reviews of romance and erotic content of whatever level for me in that department entirely unusable. Or maybe it is an age thing. No idea. It is however rather frustrating.

  6. Sirius
    May 08, 2012 @ 06:57:08

    @Sunita: Thank you so much for explaining more, I understand it now.

  7. JacquiC
    May 08, 2012 @ 13:43:21

    @Anne: I’d be interested if you could cite an example of something that would appear erotic to you from a more European perspective… I find your comment very interesting (and the idea of a longer discussion on this topic to be interesting too).

    I have not read this book, but it does raise an issue I’ve been thinking of in the context other books I’ve read recently, namely the mental lusting at odd moments. I read a lot of category romance (nice bite-sized books that don’t require a lot of energy or focus, but can be really satisfying if done well). Some of my favourites are the medical ones. But these also seem to contain examples of weird mental lusting — over some patient’s bleeding body, for example. I just don’t get it. Wouldn’t you be so focused on the person dying in front of you that it would be impossible to register the colour of the eyes and the curves of the colleague who is opposite you?? Anyway, maybe I’m just under-sexed or something, but I don’t get it and it really takes me out of the story.

  8. Sunita
    May 08, 2012 @ 14:13:37

    @JacquiC: I agree on the Medicals, some can be quite jarring. I recently read another m/m whose protagonist suffered from acute social anxiety, and I found the mood shifts between his discomfort/depression/anxiety and his lusting after the other protag to be similarly problematic. It’s a tough balance to pull off for authors.

  9. Merrian
    May 09, 2012 @ 07:31:03

    @Sunita: Was that ‘One Small Thing’? If it wasn’t then there is another book that had a some good stuff but simplified the emotional transitions for the protag with the disorder. Still thinking about whether this stuff is too hard to do in the context of these sorts of stories which require the characters to be hitting their marks at certain plot points. I liked the book but and still thinking about all of this.

  10. Sunita
    May 09, 2012 @ 11:40:03

    @Merrian: No, it was Moving in Rhythm. I have a capsule review of it in my upcoming “What Sunita’s Reading” post. You make a good point about plot points seeming to require certain behavior.

  11. cs
    May 09, 2012 @ 11:51:07

    I have read two books by this author and didn’t like them. However, I love sport-romances in M/M books. I think most of the conflict really comes from being closeted and how the athletes deal with it whilst being in a relationship. I really think that’s enough conflict and an author can do a lot with that. Same thing with the books “Caught Running” and “Tigers and Devils” as well. I’ll give this a shot, I know nothing about baseball; so I might not take offense to some things as quickly.

    @Anne: As a fellow-European…I don’t know if this is a US vs. Europe mindset when it comes to erotic writing. However, I have to say if the first sex scene doesn’t catch my attention, I skip the rest. Sex in stories isn’t important to me anyway. I find 95% to be dull and repetitive. Very few authors and even author I love hardly do anything to sex scenes that I would consider…remotely interesting. Looking at the example sex scene given; I agree with you I have seen that written a million times before. So I wouldn’t find it as a staple of good sex either. However, it’s all really subjective anyway.

  12. April 2012 Releases | ManLove Ebooks
    May 09, 2012 @ 18:40:46

    […] in the Field Kate McMurray B- AKPC_IDS += "1369,"; Tags: .Jordan Castillo […]

  13. Mary G
    May 10, 2012 @ 22:06:58

    Oh my, for the first time Sarah & I don’t agree lol. I loved this book so much. I thought the MCs melded mind, body & soul & I sighed a lot.

    I’m not a pro athlette but I do play competitive sports. I can say, for me only, I am conscious of my loved ones when they come to watch. I can imagine being distracted if the person I was crushing on & I were playng together. That was plausible for me.

  14. Mary G
    May 10, 2012 @ 22:07:37

    @Mary G: athlete – I can spell!

%d bloggers like this: