Ring Around My Heart
I gave Ring Around My Heart a shot because of the hero’s interesting job – he’s a professional wrestler. This had the potential for humor, drama, and all sorts of hijinks, I thought, but most of that was never realized. Unfortunately the hero spent most of his time wallowing in self-loathing instead of wrestling in the ring.
Alexandra “Lexy” Hayes is a PR novice, and she needs a break to get on her feet and support herself and her young son. When BAM (Brawlers and Maulers), a pro wrestling promotion company, offers her the job of turning the image of Loverboy Luke Silver from heel to hero she wonders if she can really pull it off. But the money is too good to turn down – even if it means being with a womanizing, egomaniac, drama king pretty much all of the time.
Luke Silver only pretends to be the villain, but he believes his future is in his role as bad guy. The wrestlers he’s seen who “turned” have faded into obscurity, and he can’t allow that to happen – not as long as he’s helping to support his best friend’s widow and children. But Lexy is hard to resist. Though she doesn’t recognize him in his Loverboy Luke incarnation, once upon a time he was the geeky neighbor kid, Timothy Lucas Silverspoon, who had a crush on her and followed her around. It’s obvious that Lexy needs the money from this job, but Luke can’t let her ruin his career and livelihood, can he? But even though he’s kicked plenty of beefed-up butt in the ring, he’s no match for a short brunette on a mission.
This book had a lot of potential. It begins with a scene of Luke in action in the ring and White goes into some detail of how pro wrestling matches are staged and what the participants are actually thinking and doing. But Loverboy Luke as a persona never seems quite legit. Timothy Lucas Silverspoon was a quiet geek with a bent for science. Out of the ring, Luke spends his time worrying about his dead best friend’s wife and kids and flogging himself for his “responsibility” in that death. He stages exploits with women for the press, but avoids them in private. He worries over his injuries and his declining health. The part of him that loves the spotlight and enjoys hamming it up rarely makes an appearance. It’s hard to imagine how Tim Silverspoon ever got to be Loverboy Luke in the first place. Jesse Ventura he’s not – he’s nowhere near charismatic or gregarious enough.
The main conflict between Lexy and Luke is business related – he believes that letting her do what she is hired to do will lead to his eventual unemployment – but, after some half-hearted attempts to disgust Lexy with his behavior, Luke more or less caves in and lets her do what she wants. That’s because the real conflict is Luke’s self-loathing. Luke left home years ago after his father rashly disinherited him. He feels guilty for the deaths of his older brother and best friend. He feels he has to be the villain in the ring because it’s a reflection of his rotten inner self. But it’s readily apparent to the reader and to Lexy (and to pretty much everyone else in the story) that he’s not a bad guy. While it’s true that people don’t have to have good reasons to hate themselves, Luke’s inner monologue quickly becomes tiresome, and the resolution of that psychological state comes quickly and without the seemingly necessary intense therapy.
It’s difficult to comment much on Lexy because she’s so bland. She’s a struggling single mother with a difficult ex who accused her of frigidity. She finds Luke strangely appealing even as his behavior repulses her. She’s quick to see the good side of her old friend once she figures out who Luke is. She’s more or less a stock heroine – nice, kind, loving, accepting. And she has a son who needs a father figure. Imagine it.
While Luke does make a few frantic stabs at proving his womanizing reputation (those scenes might not appeal to some readers), it’s pretty obvious that he’s just acting out the dramatic role he plays in the ring for psychological effect. The love scenes between him and Lexy are pretty tame and come late in the book. Readers who expect chandelier-swinging sex from a professional wrestler might be disappointed.
I kept hoping Ring Around My Heart would perk up a bit and get exciting – that there would be chest thumping and cave man theatrics somewhere in these pages. Most heroes who are professional athletes tend to be a bit full of themselves, and Luke would likely have had much more appeal had he not been so emotionally whipped. This was not a badly written book, but its lackluster characters and conflict dragged it down into mediocre territory, and as much as I’d like to beef up the Wrestling section of our Sports list, I can’t really recommend it.