Shut Out: A Bayard Hockey Novel
Kelly Jamieson’s Shut Out is the fanfic that would result if you crossed an ABC After School Special with the current hot-button issue of college campus sexual assault, included lectures from a week-long seminar, tossed in a handful of clichés, and threw the whole thing on the ice for a hockey game. Yikes.
Hockey star Jacob Flass is going straight to the NHL, do not pass Go, do not collect $200. Except, a bad night at a party gets Jacob kicked off his Canadian juniors team and exiled to the world of US collegiate hockey where he can, hopefully, demonstrate that he’s really a stand-up guy and continue on his path to future Stanley Cup glory. But with hot rink bunnies throwing themselves at him right and left, Jacob fears that keeping on the straight-and-narrow is going to be a bigger challenge than he anticipated. What he needs is a fake girlfriend, someone who will serve as the ultimate chick-repellent.
Enter Skylar Lynwood. After the tragic suicide of her best friend during their freshman year at Bayard College, Skylar is determined to get the grades needed to get into medical school even though she has no desire whatsoever to be a doctor. She’s thrown herself into her volunteer gig at the campus sexual assault crisis center, and she’s most definitely not going to get involved with a hot hockey player who has girls hanging off of him like barnacles, even if his amazing body and gorgeous face make her panties melt. But when Jacob Flass offers to recruit his teammates into helping bring awareness and some needed fundraising muscle to her fledgling men’s anti-sexual assault effort in exchange for Skylar’s playing his pretend girlfriend, she agrees.
Before long, Skylar and Jacob’s fake relationship is actually a real one, even if neither of them will admit it for Reasons. The sex is steamy and they enjoy the time they spend together and the support and advice they offer each other. But they can’t become a real couple because…well, this is where my problems with Shut Out begin. Really, there are NO reasons that Jacob and Skylar can’t just be a real couple, at least none that I could find.
I think Jamieson intended for Jacob and Skylar’s respective victim-hoods to be the big obstacle on their path to happy-every-after. Both have been affected by the crime of sexual assault, although neither character seems to worry too much about how the other person might react should he or she discover this fact, so as an impediment to a real relationship, it’s pretty weak. Until the last third of the book of course, when everyone’s cards are suddenly revealed to create all kinds of drama. The whole thing stinks of the Big Misunderstanding, because if Skylar and Jacob had just sat down and had a heart-to-heart conversation about their respective histories, all of it could have been easily avoided.
While the specifics are not spelled out until the last chapters, it’s pretty clear from the beginning what happened in Jacob’s case. While he feels guilt over his involvement in the admittedly bad situation, he never expresses fear about what would happen should Skylar find out the truth, nor does it ever occur to him to sit down and tell her his story before it becomes an issue. And in the end, it’s not Jacob’s actions or even his secret-keeping that cause the conflict between them but rather Skylar’s refusal to listen to him.
Skylar’s ordeal, on the other hand, is completely ignored for the first two-thirds of the book. There were perhaps one or two very vague hints about what happened to her, but otherwise she remains completely unaffected until the end when it’s pulled out to create some conflict between Skylar and her best friend, to allow Jacob to get all angsty and protective, and to, I guess, give Skylar some depth.
Because other than that, Skylar is basically just annoyingly judgmental and quick to condemn Jacob. For example, after meeting the guy for the first time at a party (one of the half-dozen in the book), they engage in some spontaneous making-out that becomes pretty hot and heavy.
And I shock myself as I whisper the words that spring to my lips. “Want to go upstairs?”
He gazes at me, his hand curled around the side of my neck, his beautiful mouth wet from our kisses, eyes heavy-lidded. His eyelashes lower to rest on his cheeks. He pulls in a harsh breath, then slowly lets it out. “I can’t.”
That’s the extent of Jacob’s response, yet without giving him a second to explain, Skylar flounces off in a huff of self-pity because despite them having only met approximately fifteen seconds earlier, any guy who didn’t take her up on her offer to make things more horizontal is clearly a complete jerk. Given her strong belief in mutual consent before engaging in any sexual activity, Skylar’s righteous indignation is particularly obnoxious.
She pulls this failure-to-listen stunt again later when she finally learns about Jacob’s true reason for relocating to Bayard College. Skylar instantly renders him guilty of a truly heinous crime without giving him so much as the courtesy of hearing his side of the story. Truth be told, she doesn’t deserve Jacob.
Then again, it would have to be a pretty special woman to deserve Jacob, because he is The Best. The best hockey player on the ice. The hottest guy with the most girls throwing themselves at his penis. The most attentive and generous lover. The most protective and devoted non-boyfriend one could hope to have. He’s not even really guilty of the crime he’s been accused of, just the victim of bad circumstances. Flawless.
The character clichés don’t stop with Jacob. The story includes “Black Jack” Jones, who is not only a dude who shows up once or twice to play the part of mean-guy to Jacob and the sexual predator with a nasty misogynistic streak, he’s also bad at hockey. Pure evil.
Girls who are not main characters are depicted as sex-hungry sports groupies looking only to score with all of the hot jocks. This is especially egregious because for as much as this book seems to be a treatise on how college sexual assault = v. v. bad (which it is), it paints the picture that every girl attending a college bash is only looking to get laid. In fact, the first victim of the book is one of those girls who gets drunk, invites a bunch of guys to party in her pants, then turns around and accuses them of gang raping her. The guys who obliged her drunken request are now also victimized when their lives are ruined for having made some admittedly bad choices.
No one in this book escapes the effects of college sexual assault. Not even the reader. Pages and pages are given to straight-from-the-manual lectures on what constitutes consent and the role of bystanders and different methods of intervening. And just in case the reader is a slow learner, Jacob constantly ruminates on what he’s learned and demonstrates the lessons overtly so that we can see sexual assault prevention methods in action. It’s as if Jamieson is trying to slip a cup of vitamin-rich spinach into your chocolate milkshake, except that she’s forgotten to throw in the chocolate, the ice cream, or the milk, leaving you with a glass of blended green goop. Healthy, maybe. But not in the least appealing.
Given that my copy of the book was an advanced, unedited version, I was willing to let a lot of the writing slips go by as simple needs for a thorough edit, but so much was just so clunky. The guys talked like a woman thinks a bunch of jocks in a group must talk instead of how they actually talk. Actions and descriptions are over-explained, giving me the impression that Jamieson was afraid I wouldn’t understand what she really meant unless she clarified. For example: “It’s Tuesday afternoon, so it’s not super busy at the diner. I’m nearly done my shift and keeping myself occupied by refilling ketchup bottles when a bunch of guys storm the place. I mean, they just walk in, but it feels like a storm, because they’re big and loud.” Honestly, I didn’t think that the hockey dudes made it rain and thunder and lightning inside the diner. I got what she meant by “storm the place”.
Too, according to NCAA estimates, less than 7% of college hockey players ever make it to the NHL, approximately one player out of every 70. Fictional Bayard College already has three current players going on to professional hockey glory, and Jacob would make a very unlikely fourth NHL draft pick. There’s fiction and there’s fantasy and then there is just complete implausibility.
In the end, Shut Out is guilty of perpetrating the mixed messages that result in so many cases of misunderstood wants and inappropriate actions. On one hand, it demonstrates the tragic results for both men and women when proper consents are not asked for nor given. Yet it readily depicts female groupies who are always on the prowl for sex with hot-bodied jocks who must constantly be hyper-vigilant about making sure that no one becomes a victim. This results in the picture of women as incapable of acting in their own best interests or taking steps necessary to ensure their own safety, instead relying on men to do the moral heavy lifting at all times. Given that I take the depiction of sexual assault and its aftermath very seriously, the fact that I found this troublesome says much.
Therefore, when it comes to my recommendation for Shut Out, I give a clear and unambiguous No, and you have my full and sober consent to just skip this one altogether.