Rating: 4.75 stars
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There are times when writing a review becomes a bit of a burden. Not because I didn’t enjoy the book, but because my adoration of it seems difficult to express. When I started to read Match Maker by Alan Chin, I didn’t expect it to become one of those books. As I mentioned in a previous review, sports aren’t really my thing. Those sports books I have read have done a good job of presenting a rousing story within the framework of the sport, while perhaps shining a spotlight on the discrimination the players face. This book does those things and so much more. It’s a book about tennis, yes, but also is also deeply rooted in Eastern philosophy, delves deep into the homophobia that surrounds it, and also presents an underlying theme of choices and the monumental impact they have on our lives. This is a piece of literature that should be read, savored and absorbed.
Daniel Bottega is a tennis instructor at a local country club. He spends his days instructing wealthy men and women in the sport. It’s not what he was meant to do. He was coaching his lover and rising tennis star, Jared Stoderling, on the pro tour until they were forced out when a photo was exposed that confirmed their sexuality. Daniel has been biding his time as a coach and Jared has found his solace in the bottle. Their once beautiful relationship has hit rock-bottom, and it has left Daniel wondering if Jared will ever be able to pull himself back from this abyss.
Connor Lin is a rising tennis star, only 18 years old, and under the thumb of his controlling father. Mr. Lin agrees to let Connor train with Daniel, but before he does, Daniel is up front with Connor about the challenges that he may face by associating with him. While Daniel’s sexuality is a surprise to him, Connor moves forward in their training and Daniel’s able to help him become one of the best tennis players in the world. Along the way, Daniel recruits Jared as Connor’s doubles partner, and this decision, while not easily accepted by his lover, is the turning point for the two.
Together with Spencer, Connor’s best friend; Shar, Connor’s trainer and love interest; and a host of interesting supporting characters; Jared, Connor, and Daniel confront the tennis world together. Jared realizes his potential and tries yet again to defeat the homophobia that brought him down once before. Daniel continues to train his two boys to be champions. And Connor struggles with his desire to dominate the tennis courts, which is at odds with his real dream, to become a doctor.
At the center of it all is Daniel. The story is told from his point of view, which I found to be an interesting choice. He isn’t one of the tennis stars, but a coach, watching everything from the outside. It is a perspective that is rarely taken, but I enjoyed Daniel’s voice so much, it was easier to accept being removed from the action, in a sense. Daniel’s relationship with Jared is a never-ending journey through peaks and valleys. The two met when they were young and finally acted on their feelings when they were teenagers. Chin’s beautiful description of the roles that became apparent to Daniel even moments after they first have sex explains how love works between these two.
Even at that age, I knew from the way he offered himself to me that I would love him and he would accept my love. Those were our destined roles: me the lover, he the loved. He would always maintain an aloof control, while I orbited him like a lesser moon.
This sounds like an imbalance in the relationship and, in a way, it is. There are times when Jared’s selfishness and stubbornness are so frustrating, you want to throw your e-reader at the wall. But Daniel continues to support him through it all. One of my favorite things about this book is their relationship. So often, a book will be about the passion and excitement of a new relationship, but in this case, we’re given a glimpse into the connection between two souls, who struggle and are imperfect but who love each other deeply and are willing to work through whatever comes in their way. In the end, it pays off. Daniel’s patience through Jared’s alcoholism and Jared’s concern about Daniel while he also goes through an extremely trying time end in a place of well-earned contentment and bliss.
While this book also gives an in-depth description of the discrimination against gay men in sports, and I was touched by the struggle as well as the fight, the biggest takeaway from this novel was, for me, the focus on the choices that we make and the impact it has on our lives. Connor’s grandfather really puts things in perspective as he describes the horrific choices he has to make in order to make a life for his family in America, and it has an impact on all of the characters as well as me as the reader. Often in this book, things could go one of two ways, and the choice, whether good or bad, has drastic consequences. Jared chooses to fight and it changes the course of both he and Daniel’s lives. Daniel is involved in a terrible tragedy that requires him to make a choice about the kind of man he’s going to be. Connor has a difficult choice to make as well — whether to follow the money or follow his heart. I love a book that makes me think long after I finish it, and this one has definitely done that.
This book isn’t perfect. While telling the story from the POV of Daniel was intriguing, it kept the reader emotionally distant. It was difficult to really feel the impact of the action, especially that of the discrimination that Jared faces on the court, when we only see it from Daniel’s perspective.
The pacing of the book was not always consistent. A lot of things happened in this book, and Chin would move quickly through some fairly important periods and then stop and pay particular attention to a few days that don’t necessarily move the plot forward. While the language of this novel was often beautiful and full of imagery, sometimes it got bogged down in it and stopped the momentum of the story in its tracks.
I recommend this book without hesitation for lovers of sports books as well as those who just like a great piece of literature. It isn’t blatantly sexual, but has a sensuality and passion that pervades the story and leaves the reader changed by its passion and intensity. It is a grand accomplishment by author Alan Chin and I look forward to reading anything he publishes in the future.
P.S. Dreamspinner Press has generously donated a copy of Match Maker to our Jock Week giveaway!