“Chain Reaction” is a novel by Dr. Ross E. Goldstein which primarily deals with the cycling discipline of road racing but has several other threads which could possibly make it appeal to people who have little or no interest in cycling. I was able to borrow the book online with Amazon.com prime where it has 7 glowing 5-star reviews.
The story centers on a young man named Cal who mysteriously walked away from a professional cycling contract with T-mobile at the age of 23. Now he is living with his parents and making espresso for a living back home in California. His father convinces him to take a cycling vacation in Italy which sets off a “Chain Reaction” and creates drama and conflict that will change Cal’s life forever.
Before I get any farther let me say that I don’t think this a very good book. Yes I read the book in about 4 days and could barely sit it down and the whole time I was reading I kept saying to myself this isn’t a very good book. It kind of reminded me of a recent movie I watched called “Warrior” it wasn’t very good but I was glued to the screen.
What is not a very good book? Well first off Cal is supposed to have not ridden a bike for 3 years and yet on his first ride in 3 years he is out sprinting the best local racer, the primary antagonist in the book, a man named Rocco. It is obvious that Dr. Goldstein knows cycling, but I do not believe someone could take 3 years off a bike, even if they were a pro, and outride an entire racing team. Maybe if Cal had been doing something to stay in shape but the book is clear that Cal has been doing nothing for 3 years except for arguing with is Dad about never cycling again.
Secondly the story is complete cliché filled fluff. Its fantasy, divorced from reality, but it is a novel so that’s not a really a bad thing. Chain Reaction reminds me of late 80s sports movies like the BMX flick “Rad” or the beach volleyball movie “Sideout.” I watched those films when I was a kid and they taught me that if you try hard enough you can do anything no matter how many disadvantages you have; you just have to want it bad enough, and the good guy always gets the girl.
Thirdly, the dialogue is beyond bad. The whole time I’m reading I keep thinking, no one would ever say lines that corny, in Italian, English, or in any language. Here’s an example, Rocco secretly sabotages Cal’s tires and his lackey domestique says, “Rocco, I’ve seen you carefully pick out tires for performance, and now I’ve seen you destroy performance tires, you are equally good at both.” MWHAHAHAHA. It’s like something from a Mel Brooks movie.
Despite that I thought the book was bad I couldn’t put it down, why? I guess the book caters to bike nerds, there are tons of references to real riders, real teams, and real gear; Dario Peggoretti even got a shout out, how cool is that. Plus Dr. Goldstein seems to know and understand cycling and joy it brings to those of us who practice it. But more than anything I could just see myself as Cal, a brash American in a foreign land making his way, getting the girl, and silencing the competition with his Legs of Steel. So in summary, “Chain Reaction” is not a good book, but if you have interest in bicycle racing read it anyway, you won’t regret it.