Books Reviews

REVIEW: “Open Water” by Pol Robinson

So here we are.  It’s the beginning of July 2012.  In just a few short weeks, the Olympic Games will open in London.

I’ve always enjoyed the Olympics.  I remember being madly in love with Mark Spitz when I was just 4 years old.  Don’t judge.  I was four! I remember when Mary Lou Retton nailed – I mean NAILED – her vaults to win the Women’s Gymnastics All-around medal.  Bruce Jenner.  Carl Lewis.  Flo-Jo.  Mary Decker.  I remember them all.

Ever watched those Bud Greenspan specials on cable?  Those are spectacular. I think I’ve seen them all.

So, I thought this a fitting time to pick up Open Water (Bella Books) by Pol Robinson.  After Pol won the Goldie for Debut Author last month, I teasingly said to her, “Well, I guess I have to read it now!”  Of course, I’ve been chomping at the bit for quite some time to get to it.  I’m really glad I did.

Cass Flynn has just found herself moving from alternate to competitor on the US Rowing Team at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.  Ripped from competitive rowing by a debilitating injury, Cass has fought hard to come back better than ever.  As she nears her 32nd birthday, this will be her last chance at an Olympic medal.

Twenty-eight-year-old Laura Kelley, captain of the US team, is struggling with her own demons and it’s showing in her performance on the water.  Right now, she needs nothing more than to focus on her goal – an Olympic medal.

Cass and Laura’s first meeting does not go well.  Nor does their second.  Or Third.  But Cass’s persistence gradually wins out, and a wonderful friendship unfolds.  But will their individual desires and their past demons serve to push them apart?

Let me start by saying this:  I’ve never known anything about rowing.  Okay, yeah…people get in a boat, they grab oars, the row together…the fastest boat wins.  Easy enough, right?  Another bit of honesty:  I’ve never really been a huge fan of the sport.  I sort of thought of it like NASCAR – “oh look at the colorful cars driving in a circle.”  Same thing – “oh look at the people rowing the boats really fast in a straight line.”

Now, all of that simplifying aside, I gotta say that, after reading this book, I will be ALL OVER the rowing events when they are shown on TV!  Robinson did an outstanding job of not only explaining the ins and outs of the sport, but she also really relayed the excitement and suspense of the races.  As Cass and her Double Scull partner, Sarah, race for the medal, I found that I was at the edge of my seat while reading!  The race easily covered 10 pages of text – every word dripping with excitement.  Would they do it?  Would they win?  How simple it would have been to play out the race quickly – sticking to just Cass’s point of view in the scull or Laura’s point of view watching from the stands.  They start.  They row.  Someone wins.  But no.  The race is told from multiple points of view, from different angles. As readers, we get to experience the emotions from all sides of the race.  Oh, it was masterfully done.  Masterfully done, I say!

Speaking of point of view, I really want to commend Robinson on her ability to really develop her secondary characters – who, by the way, really felt like main characters – by letting us see through their eyes.  While still told in 3rd person POV, each character has a unique voice and tone.  It’s so hard to keep all of the voices separate – and consistent – through an entire novel.  (The only other person who has ever truly impressed me with that type of writing skill is Amy Dawson Robertson in her Rennie Vogel Intrigues.  I’m now putting Pol Robinson in that esteemed category.)  Not only do we learn more about those secondary characters and the actual sport, but we learn about Cass and Laura.  We learn about the support group that they have around them.  It’s a wonderful “show don’t tell” sort of feel.  I loved it!  The focus always remained on Cass and Laura, though.  We never lose sight of the fact that this is their story.

Cass and Laura, themselves, are nicely fleshed out.  These are characters with depth.  If you’ve read any of my other reviews, you know I love me some multi-dimensional characters!  Cass and Laura are just that.  Right up until the last page of the book, we’re learning more and more about these two women – about their needs, their desires, their passions.  With each new snippet into Cass’s life, we understand why she is the way she is – persistent, determined…alone.  So, when she continues to reach out to Laura – who has been rude, aloof, condescending – we’re not surprised.  She approaches this, her desire to get to know another person – to know this person – just as she did the therapy for her injury.  She fought, she persevered, she didn’t take “you can’t do it” as an excuse.

I loved the slow build of the romance in Open Water.  It was nice that they weren’t jumping into bed with each other on page 25 – you know, that whole “animal-attraction, lust frenzy” that we’ll sometimes see in novels?  It could have happened.  There were plenty of points throughout the story when Robinson could have thrown them in bed with each other…and then worked things out in the aftermath.  It would have made for interesting conflict – it certainly would have influenced their rowing, thereby affecting their relationship with other team members.  Sure…that’s one way to go.  I think Robinson took the harder route, actually.  Goodness knows, these women had enough obstacles – physical and psychological – to navigate.  The careful forming of a friendship, the gradual deepening of emotions…those are, in my humble opinion, harder to put on the page.  But Robinson did put it all on the page, and she did it so skillfully, that we know these two will continue to grow and their relationship will continue to deepen.  What a very satisfying ending.

So, yes, I had to read this book.  Not just because Robinson won a Goldie – a very deserved win, by the way – but because it’s just a damned good novel.  It’s packed full of exciting, riveting action; and it’s deeply emotional.  These are outstanding traits in any novel.  Robinson mastered them in this one.

Get yourself into the Olympic spirit.  Pick up a copy of Open Water and lose yourself for a while.  If you’ve already read it…what’s stopping you from reading it again?

8 comments on “REVIEW: “Open Water” by Pol Robinson

  1. Pingback: GCLS Author Guest Blog: POL ROBINSON | Frivolous Views

  2. Okay, okay. I am in the middle of Rhapsody and now another review of another book I want to read happening so quickly. Read faster, read faster. I was convinced before and now I really want to read Open Water. Thanks for another good review, Carleen.

    Oh, and btw, I actually love rowing. I used to watch the Georgetown teams practice on the Potomac when I worked in the D.C. area and then got into at Yale. NASCAR, I still don’t get, but rowing is an amazing sport.

    Can I give you a list of what I have already read and then you can review those and I can catch up? 🙂

    Anita Bradshaw


    • LOL Sorry, Anita. When I get into a good book, I just keep going and don’t do anything else! Pol’s book was easy to read – everything flowed so nicely. I’ll try to slow down a bit for you, though. LOL


      • Thanks, Carleen! LOL I am a very fast reader, but you clearly are faster. I thought I was doing so well working through my stack from GCLS. Thanks for the reviews. They are fun.


      • You *are* doing well! I just get really, really focused sometimes. Other than for the Goldies, I haven’t really read any novels for a long time. So, I’ve got the bug again. 🙂 It’s a feeding frenzy of fiction!!!!


      • And that one is a bug worth getting!


  3. I sort of thought of it like NASCAR – “oh look at the colorful cars driving in a circle.” Same thing – “oh look at the people rowing the boats really fast in a straight line.”

    This is scary. First you take the thoughts right out of my head about Being Emily, and now you’re doing it on Open Water. This is *EXACTLY* what I thought about rowing before I read it.


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