Hi all! Today I’d like to share a contemporary M/M romance that is on the darker edge. WATER MUSIC, by Georgette Gouveia, just shook me up. It stirred me. It spilled me into an ice-filled glass and left me punch drunk.
Four points of view. Four young virile men. Four tragic stories of love and loss and abuse and hope.
Daniel and Dylan are the top swimmers in the world; Alex and Alí, the top tennis players. They play for God, country, family, and the need to escape their troubled pasts. In their quest to be the best, they also harbor a secret: Each is in love with his rival.
The four hit it off at the Summer Olympics in New York and reconnect on an island vacation that gives new meaning to doubles, round-robin, and preliminary heats. By then, the shifting professional fortunes of each couple have begun to signal a change in their personal relationships as well, one that will lead to new alliances and betrayal and engulf them in tragedy.
Told from their alternating viewpoints, Water Music is about power, jealousy, dominance, and submission. It’s about how the past informs the present and the future and how the choices made by nations, our families, and ourselves color our lives. Ultimately, it’s the story of how we come to accept those choices and learn to live with loss through love.
Dylan and Daniel are Olympic-caliber swimmers. They meet at training camp in their late teens and end up being roommates. Dylan has suffered great losses: his mother suffered early onset dementia, and his father became abusive in his frustration. Dylan took the brunt of the abuse before his mom committed suicide and Dylan and his younger brothers were cared for by their aunt. Dylan’s father is wealthy, but he won’t take any support, and uses his swimming endorsements to supplement his brothers’ care, and eventual college tuition. Daniel’s parents divorced years ago, splitting Daniel from his twin sister who was later killed in a horseback riding accident. Daniel feels like the less worthy child. When he and Dylan connect, they experience the first real affection they’ve had since childhood. Daniel insists to stay closeted, and compels Dylan to, as well. In their relationship, Daniel would be the Top, but he’s physically and emotionally abusive to Dylan–something that starts small and grows, particularly as Dylan become the better swimmer of the two.
Alex and Ali are professional tennis players. Alex is closeted, and Ali has had a horrific life which he keeps closeted. Ali learned tennis in Iraq under the American “occupation” when he is befriended by a soldier. For years he plays there, entertaining the troops, until his pal is killed and Ali is “adopted” by a pedophilic defense contractor. Through this man’s connections, Ali’s family is able to obtain asylum with relatives in France–meanwhile Ali suffers molestation for years in the US. He is despised by his molestor’s family, but can’t escape as he is constantly being promoted in the media as a tennis phenom and he fears loss of his visa. When Ali’s abuser dies suddenly, his widow kicks Ali out with a check of “hush money” and a promise to ruin his reputation if Ali ever tells his story. Ali invests his money in his training so that he can become a top pro.
In reaching his peak Ali encounters Alex, the Number One pro on the tennis tour. Alex is attracted to Ali, and they begin a relationship–in the closet. This benefits them both, but things sour as Ali continues to climb the ranks and soon bests Alex.
Daniel and Dylan meet Alex and Ali in the Olympics. They hit it off and become very friendly. (Expect ménage though it’s subtle) their joined experience marks an end–and a new beginning. Dylan sees that Daniel can’t be the man he needs. Ali and Dylan become closer, and potential exists between them, however both Ali and Dylan receive unwelcome health news that shatters one life and cripples the other.
Just when Daniel realizes that he can’t live without Dylan is exactly when he learns he’ll have to. And Alex, the ironic one, loses the biggest competition of his life–with his own ego.
So many lives intersect in this book. The secondary characters, even the “ghosts” of Dylan’s mother and Daniel’s sister, become necessary. The writing is fluid and beautiful. Each man is so well-characterized I could almost expect to see any of them lifting a gold medal to the sky. The triumphs and travails were so outrageously conceived: who could envision a war waif becoming the top pro in tennis? Who could envision a swimmer who fears the ocean? And yet all of these made perfect sense here. I was simply captivated.
Smexytimes were brief and understated, in keeping with the down-low types of relationships the men preferred. The internalization of abuse, by both Dylan and Ali, was heartbreaking. Too many times I just wanted to hug Dylan. I know I wept for him. For Ali, I was chilled.
Books like this remind me to wonder what happens behind the veil of sports and celebrity. Bravo! I obtained this book from NetGalley. This is my honest review.
About the author:
Georgette Gouveia was the senior cultural writer with Gannett Inc. and currently is editor of WAG magazine. She graduated from Sarah Lawrence College where she studied with Grace Paley and earned a bachelor of arts degree and a master of arts in critical writing. She is the author of “The Essential Mary Cassatt”.
“Water Music” is her first published novel.
When she’s not writing and editing, Georgette likes to sing coloratura arias, decorate her home, do yoga and lift weights, indulge her passion for beautiful things, including men, collect Hello Kitty, argue with her uncle about sports and revel in her spinsterhood.
Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!