Russian figure skater Mikhail Zaikov (“Misha”) had his back surgery done at the University of Delaware, where he met and dated his trainer, Amy Shepherd. Then Misha left Amy, and Amy abandoned her dream of training skaters professionally. When his back injury flares up again, Misha calls Amy for help – and then, when a professional opportunity arises, wants her to come along. Misha’s been warned by a doctor that further falls could lead to severe injury and even paralysis. Can Amy, as either girlfriend or trainer, bear to support him while he chases a dream that might break his body?
The author makes a bold choice starting the book with Misha alone and unemployed, living off modest savings. I can think of many books where the heroine begins at rock bottom (it’s basically a requirement to be in a Susan Elizabeth Phillips book) but not many for a hero. Unfortunately, while Misha’s decisions drive everything, I felt that they were not clearly explored, and he did and undid them very arbitrarily. He left Amy, with vague explanations even to the reader, and then texts her for help. He has given up skating to find a job, but then he takes up skating again, for which we get a whole passel of explanations. Humans are complex, and I don’t mind a man with multiple motivations. The problem was the frequency with which things were presented as final but then reversed.
For whatever reasons, Misha is all-in on his skating dream, and that made me think he was not a good hero for caretaker Amy. (There isn’t much more to her than “caretaker,” by the way). Misha wants victory even if it comes at the price of his health. It was realistic, if depressing, for Misha to insist on training quads again after a training injury sends him to the hospital with temporary paralysis, but that’s not a man in a healthy place. Misha is basically in an abusive relationship with figure skating, and that sort of mentality requires more time and writing to resolve than the author gave it. I’m not exaggerating when I say he changes his entire life view in a paragraph.
While I certainly got enjoyable glimpses of Russia and the competitive figure skating settings, I wanted more. There was a bit too much Lonely Planet Moscow (“down the length of Red Square, from the ornate State Historical Museum, past Lenin’s Mausoleum and GUM, toward the colorful domes of St. Basil’s”) and not enough description of the personal experience of being there. Amy speaks some Russian, but I rarely knew whether the conversation was happening in Russian or in English (since Misha’s English is written with flaws, I was hoping for the same thing to happen with Amy’s Russian, but it didn’t). I did like some interesting tidbits, like a random dinner invitation from an airplane seatmate that is, in Russia, sincere. Details about the finances of the Russian skating federation lent authenticity, but other areas of skating were underdeveloped. For instance, Misha skates a routine to Firebird. Even I know that a skater announcing a dramatic comeback set to Firebird is like a romance author announcing that she will relaunch her career with a novel about a duke. Someone should have asked him how he intended to make his version stand out.
The supporting cast was interesting, and the author particularly excels at depicting unpleasant characters like Misha’s domineering coach, Yuri, and Amy’s family, where nobody understands that hating Misha on Amy’s behalf is not the most helpful action to take. Misha’s father was complicated and interesting. A rival Russian skater Daniil is delightfully bratty and vicious, and I hope the author doesn’t neuter the character when he has his own book (which I believe is next.)
The biggest issue for me came at the end of the book when – there’s really no way to describe this without being spoilery, so beware – basic human biology occurs on a timetable that doesn’t make any sense. Also, Misha, who has spent the entire book insisting that nothing is more important than the quads that will allow him to be a champion, wonders to himself how Amy possibly couldn’t realize that she is more important to him than quads. I don’t know, Misha. Maybe it’s how you LITERALLY PARALYZED YOURSELF skating quads and then WENT BACK TO QUADS AGAIN?
There’s a lot to recommend in Getting It Back. Even in the world of athlete novels, this one is different, featuring money issues, the grind of training, health issues, a hero who was never best in the world, and a plot which doesn’t climax at the sport’s major championship. I’m glad the author is doing something original, even if it didn’t turn out perfectly.
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