In Hutchinson’s (Twisted Trails, 2015) short novel, a teenager struggles with the sullied legacy of his athlete father.
Andrew Gamble was the most successful professional cyclist the sport had ever seen, a living legend. His fame crumbled into infamy, though, when he was caught in a scandal involving performance-enhancing drugs while competing in France. Instead of facing up to his mistake, Gamble fled, abandoning his wife and 12-year-old son, Connor; he then disappeared without a trace. Connor was taken in by his uncle, Neal, the owner of a well-known bicycle shop called Modest Cycles. Five years later, Connor has taken up cycling despite the long shadow of his father’s notoriety. The sport is apparently in Connor’s blood, and he enthusiastically commits to it; he also becomes obsessed with a talented, masked rider whom he’s convinced is his father (“a masked man who wins races but never shows up for the prize”). Meanwhile, Darwin Camot, an author famous for a bestselling book about cycling, is sentenced to community service after a run-in with the law, and he tries to use this misstep as an opportunity to reform a wayward life. Hutchinson writes with a deep love and knowledge of the sport and vividly brings MacAskill, Rhode Island, to life—a fictional small town essentially founded by and for cycling devotees. But although the narrative is structured around the sport, the principal themes transcend it; in different ways, both Connor and Darwin are in search of elusive redemption. This is a very brief work—more a novella than a full-fledged novel—and the story unfolds too quickly for it to develop more than a patina of emotional authenticity. Connor’s angst rings truest, as he paradoxically tries to emulate a father whom he holds in contempt: “ ‘My dad's not innocent,’ Connor confessed. ‘He was a cheater and a drug user. The Feds think he fled to Mexico. I hope he never comes back.’ ” However, the remaining characters seem underdeveloped, and although Andrew is, in many ways, the fulcrum of the whole tale, he frustratingly remains an enigma. Overall, the book wonderfully depicts its sport, but it falls short as both mystery and emotional drama.
A book that will likely hold the interest of cycling enthusiasts despite serious flaws.