GOLD by Chris Cleave (Bond Street), 321 pages, $29.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN
The week Chris Cleave's debut, Incendiary, a letter to Osama bin Laden, was released, terrorists bombed the London Tube. His follow-up, Little Bee, tackles the ethical quandary of an upper-middle-class couple in relation to a Nigerian refugee escaping Big Oil interests.
The UK author obviously likes his stories on the bleeding edge. So it is with Gold, about two female competitive cyclists who must choose between friendship and victory. No coincidence that Gold drops just weeks before the Olympics opens in London.
Say what you want about his attention-seeking narratives, Cleave knows how to tell a story. Like his previous two offerings and in keeping with his wheeled protagonists, Gold really tears along.
Kate and Zoe have been competing on the track since they were 19. They have two things in common, physical talent and an attraction to fellow cyclist James, but in every other way they are opposing personalities. Kate's kind; Zoe's driven to the point where she'll do nasty things to win.
Cleave's done impressive research to get inside Zoe's head. His graphic depiction of her prep for a race is chilling, as is her singular focus. Kate's decision to stay home with her child, Sophie, instead of competing in the Olympics is unfathomable to Zoe, who has everything to lose if she doesn't win.
But he's also developed two fascinating secondary characters. Former Olympian Tom, who coaches both women, is hopelessly torn between his two proteges.
And Sophie, who's suffering from leukemia, is a revelation, more perceptive than her parents give her credit for. She can tell by the slightest gesture when they're in emotional pain, and her attempts to disguise her suffering are heartbreaking.
But what really matters is who's going to win. When it comes to that strand of the narrative, Cleave keeps you on the edge of your seat. And is it a sad or happy ending? You'll be talking about that for days.
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