One Way Street by Laney Cairo – review

Rating: 8/10 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ Title: One Way Street
Author: Laney Cairo
Genre: Romance, sport
URL: Torquere Press
Price: US$ 3.95
Other Information/warnings: disturbing medical imagery, some bad language, explicit m/m, kink (breath play)
Aussie rules football star Shane is having a rough time of it. He split with his lover, Dale, because of the pressure from his coach and his sponsors, who don’t want a gay player on their hands. He’s also sick, desperately so, and he doesn’t know who to go to. Everyone in his life wants something from him, but no one wants to help.

When he can’t take anymore, Shane runs to the one place he knows he’s safe; the old love nest he shared with Dale. When Dale shows up to collect his stuff, he finds a very ill Shane, and the two of them remember why they were so attracted to each other.

My review:
When I saw a review of this, two things grabbed my attention – the Australian setting and the hurt/comfort possibilities. I decided to risk my money and buy this novella, and am glad I did so, because it’s well above average for this genre in terms of quality and plot, with a solid and unusual background in the game of Australian Rules football. A game about which, incidentally, I know nothing except some of the players are rather pretty 🙂

The plot carries many contemporary resonances, with both drug use and homophobia in Australian sport always very topical. I thought both were very well and grittily used here as themes, and the callousness of the sporting medics sounded unpleasantly spot on. The author’s clearly taken her time to research the subject of Aussie Rules (and the murky deals of corporate sponsorship and sporting contracts) very thoroughly, and I would be sure that she’s got her facts right. However, you don’t need to know a thing about this sport to feel for Shane’s situation or be moved by his distress and his many challenges. The ending is a tad ‘OKHomo’, but the characters come by it honestly. The trial by fire feels very intense and life-altering.

It’s not a perfect story by any means. There were too many times when I felt the lack of a true Australian sensibility, even in the vocabulary – the author is a Londoner living in Australia, so it can’t be she’s unaware of what we sound like, so I am going to blame the dead hand of an non-Australian editor for words like ‘normalcy’ popping up as unpleasantly as a pubic hair in your salad. The editing needed to be tighter too. There was a little too much in the way of padding, telling not showing. The story was more than strong enough not to need it. Cairo shows us very well, when she does.

The dialogue lacked much in the way of a distinct Aussie distinct flavour, which I found personally disappointing, and a lot of it sounded unconvincing out of the mouths of any man, let alone Australian men who are not, shall we say, famous for their eloquence (certainly not football players.) They talk too much and they cry too much. However, all the characters are vivid and likable, Shane being much more rounded and credible than Dale, of whom I never had a clear image. Minor characters like Frank and Lindon were crisp, and amusingly sympathetic – I enjoyed their interactions with Dale as much as Dale’s with Shane.

The sex is well written, but I thought there was too much of it, given the crippled state of one of the participants (though the author does an excellent job of showing them accommodating illness and severe injury.) I thought the sense of the grand passion between two former lovers who couldn’t really let each other go, was shown very well without the need to jemmy quite so much sexual content into the story. (Yes, it’s Torquere, and the m/m publishers insist on it. It doesn’t help for good story telling, though.)

Overall, though, this was a well-paced, more than usually thoughtful story. I loved the set up with the two ex-lovers both retreating to lick their wounds, real and metaphorical, in their former love nest. Details like the fact Dale is an unrepentant grub, and Shame’s affection for his fiancée’s dog (and the humour of a dog in the bedroom while the boys are at it) lend verisimilitude to a convincing narrative. I found myself completely fascinated by Shane’s descent into near-suicidal despair and bodily destruction, and rooted for him as he slowly put his life back together. I didn’t feel there was the same level of tension about where his relationship with Dale would go, but that didn’t matter as the rebuilding of bridges so nearly completely burned, was in itself compelling.

As a short, satisfying read, I’d recommend this to anyone wanting something a little more challenging than stroke fic, not as brain-bending as a full novel, and it earns lots of brownie points for using a non-clichéd setting so well. I would happily buy more works by this author.