Chris Cleave
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Buy *Gold* by Chris Cleave online

Chris Cleave
Simon and Schuster
384 pages
April 2013
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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While Cleave’s sports drama is at times emotionally manipulative and trite with strange metaphors (her heart "snagged on the wire of the fence her friend had put up between them"), the author so cleverly blends modern-day competition with a child’s fight with leukemia that the lessons of compassion--and one family--transcend a moment in crisis as three lives are redefined by sickness and by health.

Amid the challenges of Olympic competitive cycling, Zoe, Jack, and Kate face the tightening of shoe cleats and the polishing of visors. All three endure a painful legacy of disappointment and joy. We first meet Kate while she watches her best friend on TV, Zoe emerging into the central arena of the Velodrome in Athens in 2004. Although Zoe and Kate have shared a fragile friendship begun with blind ambition, over the years they have endured a mutual fear and admiration of each other that is tinged with paralysis.

Kate and Zoe must learn to counteract their unworthiness and even their jealousy, but Jack has never wavered in his singular purpose. He has always imagined his future as an accomplished, world-famous gold-medal cyclist. Comfortable in his life with Kate, Jack does everything he can to support her dream of winning the gold in the London Olympics. Kate had reached the highest level and shared a coach with Zoe--gruff, no-nonsense Australian Tom Voss--and even beaten Zoe in the final year of preparation--but baby Sophie's arrival changed Kate’s life forever. Now she faces the day-to-day moments of juggling her training and raising Sophie while still managing her inner desires.

In this fast-paced chamberpiece shot through with sly, offbeat humor and a heaping dose of sentimentality, Cleave shows extraordinary patience in presenting the grueling, competitive nature of Olympic cycling. What really gives this novel such emotional depth is that it features men and women with special gifts learning to cherish and respect the burdens of each other’s talents. Despite its clichéd exterior, I couldn’t put the book down as Cleave unfolds, in poignant tones, a love triangle of people with great promise at the height of their physical and professional lives.

Kate and Jack struggle with Sophie’s leukemia, perpetually balancing their desire to compete with her terrible illness, but Zoe proves to be as ruthlessly determined and unstoppable as ever. Driven by her demons and lack of contrition, she ensconces herself in her million-dollar Manchester flat high above the world’s surface, trusting Tom through her most difficult days. Competing in the Olympics no longer scares her. Even as she envies Kate's life “down on the Earth,” Zoe once again sets her sights on crushing and demoralizing her rival.

In poignant interludes, Cleave moves back in time, his tale incorporating chapters cast from the characters’ pasts, which in turn gives their competitive spirit an almost fatalistic poignancy. A sudden change in the Olympic eligibility rules is just the beginning in a series of moral dilemmas that involve romantic secrets and unexpected media cover-ups, along with this constant and fanatical need for Zoe, Kate and Jack to prove themselves again and again. Amid a constellation of disconnected emotions, the three protagonists train themselves to the edge of destruction while sacrificing a slice of ambition to care for poor, sick Sophie.

Manchester's gorgeous backdrop captures the flush, competitive feelings of summer and the rain of spring, which represents the blossoming of new possibilities. We dive into Cleave's luscious, aggressive world rife with the universal emotions of love, envy and loyalty.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2012

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