Everyone who writes a lot of book reviews is aware of the phenomenon where it’s often a lot easier to talk about books that you hated than books that you loved. Something about the fire of rage makes it much easier to write at length. But when everything just falls into place, what is there to say? It seems reductive and passionless to just list all of the things the book did well and why. But if I had enough talent in writing to describe, in colorful and evocative metaphor, the type of feelings that a book inspired in me, I might be an actual author myself, and not just someone who reads semi-professionally.
So I kinda hate writing reviews for books I love, and I especially hate it at the end of the year, when I’m especially tired of writing reviews (an affliction that makes no sense, because when you write reviews year-round for multiple years running, the end of a calendar year isn’t anything other than symbolic.) I hate that I cannot do the book justice.
Here is the Goodreads blurb: “‘Trust me, I’ve wanted to punch you in the face a time or five.’ When the man you worshipped as a kid becomes your coach, it’s supposed to be the greatest thing in the world. Keywords: supposed to. It didn’t take a week for twenty-seven-year-old Sal Casillas to wonder what she’d seen in the international soccer icon-why she’d ever had his posters on her wall, or ever envisioned marrying him and having super-playing soccer babies. Sal had long ago gotten over the worst non-break-up in the history of imaginary relationships with a man that hadn’t known she’d existed. So she isn’t prepared for this version of Reiner Kulti who shows up to her team’s season: a quiet, reclusive shadow of the explosive, passionate man he’d once been. ”
It has been a long, long time since I’ve read the quality of slow-burn romance that is the soul of Kulti. Unquestionably, this is the style of romance that really connected me spiritually with the genre, by wholly engulfing me emotionally and not allowing me to step away from the book even for a second. Where a lot of romance feels light and concise — even those that are exceptionally intelligent or explore harder themes — something about the slow burn feels less certain. It makes you hold your breath in anticipation for longer, and the catharsis feels greater.
The engrossing romance is essential to the genre, and Kulti excelled at it. The foundational story around it, though, was also compelling in its authenticity. “Sports romance” is a popular subgenre, but few that I’ve read seem to treat athletics, and particularly professional athletics, as the seriously difficult, dangerous, unstable, and life-consuming careers as they are. That Sal and Kulti share the single-minded determination to be the best, and that they have sacrificed everything else in their lives in service to soccer, rings true, and deepens their understanding and appreciation of each other.
Despite my frustration at having to review a book that affected me as much as this one did, it was also sorely needed at the end of the year, to give me something good to remember and lift my spirits.