” God, it was sometimes so hard to know how to be around Zoe. Something about Zoe always made Kate feel like a good person and a coward, both at once. When she thought about Zoe’s relationships, it was sometimes with a serene sense that thank God she wasn’t like that but more often it was with a kind of tired fascination—not that her friend was insatiable, but that she herself was grateful for so little. ” (168)
Gold follows two bicyclists, Kate and Zoe, who met at nineteen when they both made the cut for the national training program in track cycling. They are teammates, best friends, and rivals—even have the same tie to a Scotsman, Jack, whom Kate later married. The novel begins in 2004, when Zoe competes in Athens and takes gold, while Kate watches her on TV in her home in Manchester, trying to exorcise all jealous thoughts. Devoted and self-sacrificing Kate knows her daughter was fragile since the day of her birth; she chooses to stay home and takes care of the child so Jack can compete in his cycling event.
The only thing that kept (Zoe) alive was winning, and without winning there was only blackness and despair. It had been like that since she could remember. (220)
Zoe is Kate’s polar opposite. Intense and aloof, she has a compulsive need to win because losing is not an option. She is so afraid of losing that she would do whatever it takes to win—even at the expense of relationships. She has a problem with anger and suffers from an inability to accept the occasional defeats that were inevitable in life. Kate’s burden in life becomes Zoe’s advantage on the racing track. Leukemia diagnosis came to Kate’s daughter Sophie when she was about to compete in Beijing. She once again gave up her Olympic dream and did what she thought was most important. She is afraid Sophie’s condition might worsen in her absence; she wants no regreat in terms of giving her daughter the best care. It’s not about doing what is expedient but what is right.
‘I don’t know where my head goes,’ Zoe said. ‘I want to win so badly, I forget that you’re you. That we’re friends.’ (67)
‘I’m scared I wight win. Winning is all (Zoe) has. I’m nervous what she might do to herself if we leave her with nothing. I’m terrified of what she might do to us.’ (195)
Now at thirty-two, the women are facing their biggest race: the 2012 London Olympics. This is Kate’s last chance for gold. As for Zoe, winning gold is the only way for her to wave goodbye to her career. But a rule change would put more knife twist to their drama and to my reading experience: only one of them will be allowed to compete. At the heights of her frenzied months of training, Kate’s daughter is fighting a recurrence of leukemia that nearly killed her three years ago. But she didn’t want to stand in the way of her mother’s dream. As both Zoe and Kate embrace the new challenge, the trouble that spun around them in the past is slowly unraveled at its most unabashed. Will Zoe allow her obsession and her advantaged over an anguished mother endanger the bond they have shared over a decade?
Unlike his previous novels, Incendiary and Little Bee (which I enjoyed profusely), Gold does not have any political components, but it does not lack in human dynamics. As much as these women are thriving for gold and getting caught up in their dream, each has more than a medal to lose. Each has to overcome more than the demand of physical capacity—their own ghosts. Gold is a morality tale that examines the values that lie at the heart of our most intimate relationships. In a time where obsession with winning takes precedence over ethics, Gold is an antithema that cajoles us back to the reality of our heart. Even though somehow I know Kate will not let her third chance at Olympics slip, Chris Cleave does a great job sustaining that intrigue—between the cyclists rivalry and Sophie’s arrival, which heaps guilt on every character and complicates their battle for victory. It reminds me that life is so much more complicated than winning races. This is a novel not to be missed.
321 pp. Simon and Schuster. Hardback. [Read/
Skim/ Toss] [Buy/ Borrow]