"Hockey is a violent jungle," writes Roch Carrier in his portrait of hockey legend Maurice "the Rocket" Richard. Indeed, few sports combine grace and brutality the way ice hockey does. And Rocket Richard was the ferocious king of that jungle during his illustrious career with the Montreal Canadiens (1942-60). He intimidated opponents with both extraordinary skills and never-say-die determination. But he was more than just a hockey star. During his long skate as the lynchpin of the Canadiens, this shy and somewhat inarticulate young Quebecois also became a focal point of a burgeoning French-Canadian nationalism, a symbol of their struggle. That was demonstrated beyond doubt in 1955, when the much-reviled President of the NHL, Clarence Campbell suspended the Rocket. The fury of his fans sparked a full-blown riot on Montreal streets. Hard to imagine that happening over a Wayne Gretzky or Vince Carter suspension, isn't it?
Carrier's highly detailed descriptions of the social and political milieu of the time give this work a depth and resonance beyond most sports books. Attempts to probe the psyche of the very private Richard, however, are rather more problematic. At one point, the author writes, "he keeps all his discontent behind his silence, which is closed as tightly as a safe," and his attempts to open that safe aren't always successful. Still, the writing makes up for such shortcomings. Carrier is something of a Canadian legend himself as author of the much-loved children's story The Hockey Sweater. His sentences are short and to the point, like a good hockey pass, with a fluid poetry that matches the grace of a Rocket end-to-end rush: "His eyes are two black bullets that are silently shot at his opponents." As a hockey-playing youngster, Carrier revered Maurice Richard. In Our Life with the Rocket, he does the man true justice. --Kerry Doole
Roch Carrier is the author of such celebrated works of fiction as La Guerre, Yes Sir!, The Hockey Sweater, Heartbreaks Along the Road, The Man in the Closet, The End and Prayers of a Very Wise Child, which won the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour in 1991.