I received an email from a reader who said, “I am interested in you reviewing a personal favorite of mine…. I’m eager to hear your thoughts about a book that, in a very short time, I’ve come to love.” Such a simple endorsement caught my attention, and I read it in a marathon session that ended with me straddling a running treadmill, unable to accept that I’d clicked “next page” and there WAS NO NEXT PAGE. It was over! And I was left with no more of a wonderfully sweet (in a good way) romance, though I was consoled by a hefty dose of “Just finished a good romance euphoria.”
Caught Running is a gay romance (it’s also pretty and witty). In a nutshell (hur): science geek with big giant brain reconnects with laid back PE teacher who coaches high school baseball team. Science geek + sports jock + zesty attraction = WIN!
The longer version: Brandon teaches science at the Georgia high school he attended as a kid. Jake was in Brandon’s class, was an all-star athlete, and has also returned to that same high school as the PE teacher and coach of several of the school’s sports teams, including the championship winning baseball team. When a shortage of teachers creates a need for an additional coach, the principal maneuvers Brandon into “volunteering” for the job, despite Brandon’s inexperience with team sports and team camaraderie. All the other coaches are former players, and they take their coaching seriously. Jake remembers Brandon from back when, and welcomes him to the team, while both men fight an attraction that they both think they shouldn’t be feeling.
The process of the two of them unraveling their past and figuring out their present attraction is marvelous in the hands of Roux and Urban. Against the backdrop of the all-male enclave that is high school competitive varsity team sports, Jake and Brandon negotiate what is at essence a truly romantic story of two people falling in love, but because of the nuances of their characters and their backstory as well as the ancillary characters, it’s so much more than that.
There are myriad issues surrounding their relationship, from letting go of their high school impressions of one another, and of the “jock” and “nerd” roles they played at that time, to determining whether acting on their attraction is worth the risk should they be caught, not to mention the obvious “is this a passing fancy or is this permanent?” wondering on the part of both parties. It’s been a while, now that I think about it, since I’ve read a story that includes the “does s/he like me, or does s/he like me like me” uncertainty. In this case, it was quaint and effective.
The story is told with a lot of head hopping between Brandon and Jake, so the reader experiences the story through a rapidly shifting point of view. That switching can be distracting, as there were moments when I wanted more of Brandon’s impressions or more of Jake’s perspective. Overall, I thought more of the story was explored from Brandon’s point of view, but Jake was a slightly more fascinating character to me: a silly, casual guy who loves sports, loves his job, and misses the opportunities that might have been his had his health and his joints not been sacrificed too early in this lifetime. But that is no slight to Brandon, who is quiet, adorably dedicated in the same way that Jake is to his job and his life, observant, wickedly smart and adaptable in most situations.
Two things that I noticed, one a minor nitpick. I wonder if one of the writers isn’t Australian, because I caught a few instances of Aussie idioms (“What are you on about?” and “good on you,” for example) that I couldn’t quite imagine folks in Georgia using – though one of my friends who lives in Georgia is an Aussie ex-pat, so maybe she’s influenced the world of gay romance. But if I go down South and hear someone ask me if I want a cuppa, I’m more than happy to admit I’m wrong on this one.
The other thing was a potential scene that I kept waiting to materialize but never did. Brandon is a former med student with two Masters degrees in various sciences. When Jake’s shoulder is seizing up on him, causing him considerable pain, Brandon (in a scene of electric sexual tension like yowzer boy howdy) gives him a massage, and explains where the injury is, revealing both his own understanding of human anatomy, and his ability to translate that in to a practical understanding for himself and the reader of how much pain Jake tolerates on a daily basis to simply do his job. Because Jake had surgery on his shoulder, knee, and ankle, and was pushed to keep playing by coaches and his own need for continued scholarship, his body bears a good amount of painful damage, and with Brandon’s explanation, Jake’s dedication and commitment to his teaching job and his coaching responsibilities become more than his joking, laid back persona reveal.
Brandon then offers Jake a massage, using equipment that he has at home from his med school days, and Jake grudgingly accepts – but no massage scene!? What what?! But, but! I was anticipating that scene for many reasons, and was so disappointed when it never arrived. One, hot hot! Two, electric tension, they has it. And three, the power dynamics in Brandon’s and Jake’s relationship are constantly shifting, but most of the time, Brandon is the fish out of water in Jake’s athletic world, and Jake is the individual with the most power, control, and authority. If Brandon gave Jake a therapeutic massage (or a non therapeutic one, nudge nudge, wink wink!) then the authors would have had the opportunity to show off even more of the depth of Brandon’s knowledge (which is holy shit considerable) and his dedication to his own medical school career. At the beginning of the novel Brandon mentions his doctorate, and when his overloaded schedule reaches a breaking point, he has to decide what to do with all his commitments, but I really missed this possible opportunity for these two characters.
However, I have to say, my goodness, I really liked this book. There wasn’t a tremendous amount of angst or “Oh, oh, the anti-gay lynch mob is after us!” fear, but both men acknowledged the reality of being gay within their community that seemed appropriate without being overwhelming. Caught Running grabbed me, and left me with a big fat smile on my face. Those who reject gay romance out of hand would do well to try this story, as it balances well the sexual, emotional, and social elements of contemporary romance between two very real and very captivating men.