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Whenever I hear the words “muscle bound,” I always think of men trapped behind narcissistic iron bars, imprisoned by the maintenance of their self-image. Whether or not that’s true, I’d love to read a book where a bodybuilder breaks out of that confinement when his life goes wrong instead of returning to it like a recidivist. David Marlow’s Muscle Bound isn’t that book, though it does have some interesting characters.
Chase Hyde is a bodybuilder and a self-avowed ‘roamosexual’ who takes great pains to fall only in lust and never in love. Until he meets fellow muscleman Hunter Rowe, that is. Hunter pursues Chase fervently and, ultimately, wins his prize as we knew he would. It’s then that things begin to go wrong.
The plot—of this part of the story, anyway—has enough twists and turns to keep a reader’s interest, but the trouble is that Marlow gives us only 88 pages of the Chase/Hunter story before switching to nearly 200 pages of backstory. Some of it is relevant to the Chase/Hunter drama, but much of it isn’t.
By the time he brings Chase and Hunter to the forefront again, I’d forgotten why I was interested in them in the first place. Marlow tries to compensate for this by building in a wicked breakup and revenge scenario. Unfortunately, that hinges on a flaw in Hunter which hasn’t been foreshadowed well and doesn’t spring organically from the character.
Marlow’s writing is vivid and well-appointed, even if the lavishly detailed descriptions of workouts get a bit much. Chase and Hunter are interesting characters, but Marlow’s best creation is Christian Falconer, a closeted Christian (get it?) who winds up breaking Chase’s heart. Christian is central to the 200 pages of backstory but once Chase and Hunter become the focus, he’s relegated to a minor part.
While the novel is well-written enough to be entertaining, it doesn’t hang together structurally. The clump of backstory in the middle doesn’t serve the plot well. Marlow’s time would have been better spent honing and refining Chase and Hunter, deepening that story so that the twists, turns, betrayals and revenges would have had more of an emotional impact in the end. Applicable parts of the backstory could have been easily dropped in and the whole thing tightened up for a shorter, snappier read.
As it is, Muscle Bound is an interesting, if lopsided, workout. Hmm. Maybe a cycle of ‘roids would have helped.
Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler