Always Someone Better by Tsukizubon Saruko – review

Rating: 9/10 ★★★★★★★★★☆ 
Title: Always Someone Better
Author: Tsukizubon Saruko
Genre: College/football/contemporary
URL: Shousetsu Bang*Bang no.16
Price: FREE!
Other Information/warnings: explicit m/m, football

River hates Austin for being the successful college footballer turned pro that River will never be. But hating Austin is impossible. What’s an overbright wannabe jock gonna do?

[Found through the Slash Pile community on LiveJournal]

My review:If I say this story is utterly adorable, I’m sure a lot of you will walk away disgusted, thinking kitties and rainbows. Wrong! This is adorable without being cute, sweet without being icky. It’s about men, football, bad cooking and hiding in the closet.

But it really is adorable because the author has created three beguiling, decent characters in Austin, the guy who made it in football; River, the guy who didn’t; and Mandy, Austin’s girlfriend who figures them both out long before River hops on the clue bus.

Austin is…well, he’s like a big, friendly dog. Lumbering, clumsy, well-meaning, fit…and under the drawl, more brain than anyone gives him credit with. He comes from money, is making big money, but he’s just a simple man with simple wants, and all he wants is his friends to be happy and to play football.

Compared to Austin, River’s a basket case. He really is a basket case. The only son of an unwed teenage mother, he ignores the fact he’s academically, and travels to New York on a football scholarship, only to find that he isn’t good enough to make the big time. He meets Austin which is both happiness and torture – happiness because Austin is the big brother he never had, the friend he never had, but torture because Austin’s success is a constant reminder of River’s own failure.

Mandy is a vegan, pot-growing florist goth, with more common sense than both guys put together and a refreshingly down to earth approach about everything. My only gripe about her is that she really cares for Austin, but seems relaxed about the possibility of losing him to River. Just once it would be nice for the yenta to shed a tear over losing her boyfriend, but it’s a minor point because the way Mandy is, you believe it.

The author creates believable backgrounds for the guys, which credibly inform their characters and actions. It’s as much a coming of age story as a coming out of the closet tale, and while there’s some cliched set up, the execution is anything but stereotypical. They remain true to themselves, while losing the shackles their upbringings and respective small towns have placed on them.

The writing is very sharp, tight and acutely observed. Also very, very funny, and blessedly free of sap. The guys are guys, and that doesn’t change. How sad is it that this free short story is some of the best writing I’ve read this year, far and away better than most of the pro stuff?

If this author isn’t published somewhere, it’s a crying shame. For now, enjoy this and her other free offerings while you have the chance. Highly recommended.