Rescuing the Receiver
Rachel Goodman’s contemporary series about football, cute dogs and romance continues in Rescuing the Receiver, about the owner of a cash-strapped animal shelter and a disgraced wide receiver.
Chris Lalonde, defensive lineman for the Denver Blizzards and just last season a SuperBowl champion, has been caught with his pants down on a nationally-broadcast talk show. The Blizzards’ current season is a dire one, their star quarterback having just retired and a rookie having stepped into his place, and one of Chris’ neighbors eagerly sells him out to the media when he says he’s seen performance enahncers called Meldonian being delivered to Chris’ doorstep. To save his reputation, Chris takes a voluntary drug test – which comes back positive. Even though he’s ‘only’ been doping recently in a desperate attempt at saving the season and stopped when the substance was banned by the NFL, he’s forced by the team owner, Kent McDougall, to volunteer at the local dog shelter to rehab his reputation – and he’s stuck there until the shelter owner signs off on his rehabilitation. Unfortunately, Chris really hates dogs.
Hazel Grant, owner of Rescue Granted, is less than happy to be sheltering Chris, but she’s a second chance person – with abused corgis, that is. Hazel is a passionate, hard worker who has high ambitions for the shelter’s success, but can’t get a foot in the door with the major local nonprofits because so many other, bigger shelters exist in the area. Though she loathes social media, she’s told that they need to use it to get publicity on the shelter; thus employing Chris as a favor is a perfect solution to both of their problems. Unfortunately, she can’t stand Chris’ big-mouthed antics, and his smugness puts them at immediate loggerheads. She is also immensely bitter about how he’s wasted all of his promise and resources on dissipation while she struggles with what she has at her own disposal, and is closed off to romance after experiencing too many cheaters and frauds. Dealing with her mother’s debilitating panic disorder and anxiety often leaves her feeling exhausted, on top of it all. Little does she know that her uncle – Kent McDougall – has sent Chris her way in the hope of getting her to ‘live life out loud’ in his words.
Naturally, Hazel and Chris are attracted to each other physically in spite of their dislike. Soon, Chris is spilling his true feelings about his empty life to Hazel and Hazel is living more of a social life with him. But while Chris’ publicity stunts fuel adoptions and his donations buy needed supplies, Hazel has a hard time accepting that her first impression of him might be incorrect – especially when Chris’ various antics in the locker room as the season improves might result in his permanent suspension from the sport he’s to which he’s given his all.
Rescuing the Receiver boasts a lot of familiar shelter-owner-finds-love-with-secretly-soft-bad-boy tropes. Chris had to work to regain my approval. Any guy who starts a book calling his agent “Shmuck Tubbyman” behind his back is someone deficient in maturity and kindness – the whole performance-enhancing-drug-taking part of the deal just adds to that picture, regardless. I knew a lot of my enjoyment of the novel would weigh heavily upon how quickly Chris grew up, and it takes him more than half the book to do so. His quick twist away from ‘dogs are only good for getting chicks’ to ‘dogs give me fulfillment and purpose!’ happens so suddenly and without proper build-up, but then again so do many of the novel’s big actions.
Hazel is a stiff-necked schoolmarm in tight jeans; judgmental of everyone around her and all because her father lied to her as a child. The novel absolutely doesn’t trust her snap judgment and thinks she ought to bend more. The thing is, Hazel is mostly right; hoping blindly that someone will change when they keep letting you down is a fool’s errand, and Chris spends most of the book alternating between acting nicely to her family and the shelter’s dogs while doing reckless, violent things and blaming others for them.
That’s one of the novel’s biggest problems – being nice to cute dogs in public doesn’t make what Chris did any less illegal. He’s schmoozy and jerkish for over half the story, and touches Hazel in ways she’d rather not be touched, and (why is this always a theme in contemps where the main couple start out in a love-hate relationship?) notices how well she fills her jeans out; less than fifty pages later, they’re making out.
The narrative about emotional trauma is terribly retrograde. We all know that Hazel’s protests that she doesn’t need love to complete her will be disproven by the story’s arc, and her childhood trauma will be dragged out of the mothballs to explain why; ditto with Chris’ anger issues. They speak in large plot chunks to one another in which they literally explain their motivations aloud, and their first sex scene takes place minutes after their first kiss; on top of that, the development between them is mostly sexual development. The narrative leans so heavily on ‘Hazel desperately needs to live more of a social life’, and by that we mean bounce on Chris’ baloney pony’ instead of ‘Chris is really reckless and Hazel is not unreasonable to want him to act like an adult’ that it doesn’t dare suggest why Hazel might be happy to be introverted.
Goodman’s prose is fine, and her character work and moral points are decently told even though the characters are irritating. The plot about Hazel’s mother’s agoraphobia is quite well-handled until the last scene between them, which carries the message ‘anxious relatives should not burden their adult children’. However, lines like “Chris Lalonde might play wide receiver but Penny and I agreed that he’s a natural tight end” never should have made the final product, nor should the line “no matter how hard or often I washed Olive’s empty kennel I couldn’t wash away the memories of Chris.” Someone needs to tell Pocket’s editors about the bad laugh.
Ultimately, this hard-to-love twosome learning kindergarten lessons about life together is a bit of an off-putting mess.