on May 19, 2004
This book is a disappointing read, and it makes me wonder if the publisher and writer think so little of running readers that they would allow something to be published that is so subpar. The plot is rambling, the writing is poor and overwrought, self-conscious and inconsistent, the characters are unlikeable, the time-frame is unclear, the characters shallowly drawn and the events unbelievable. There are a FEW interesting sketches of the runner ethos, but they are few and far-between, and not worth slogging through this book to read.
I wouldn't recommend this to anyone. I think runners deserve better fiction than this.
on May 20, 2004
I did not like this book.
The narrative, loosely structured, concerns itself with the ambitions of a college runner, Quenton Cassidy. He is approaching a four-flat minute mile, and is friends with an upper classman who has already won an Olympic medal in a longer-distance race. The book rambles about, focusing on the jocularity of the tracksters' dorm life, Cassidy's brief relationship with college woman Andrea, Cassidy's tricks on his fellow teammates, the idiocy of the coaches and university administration, Cassidy's memories of training, growing up, training, past races, training and university politics. The final section of the book deals with Cassidy preparing for a meet in which he will take on a world one-mile champion from New Zealand.
The problems I had with the book stemmed first from the poor writing. Some of the plot points were too oblique (Henry James, anyone?), there were anachronisms for the 1970s in which the book was supposed to take place (Andrea has a computer class...), some of the language of the athletes was alternating crude then falsely cleaned up (one character says such crass things about women, I won't retype them here, then turns around and says "fanny"), and much of the description is pretty self-conscious, heavy-handed and reaching. For the most part the writing didn't support true characters.
And these characters were poorly drawn. Cassidy and his close friends on the team are the only remotely sympathetic characters. Andrea is somewhat respectfully drawn, but the others are all very two-dimensional. The book is sexist in that it portrays both secretaries at the university who are mentioned by name as having or wanting to have sex with their bosses. The author also likes to tell the reader directly whom we should not like by naming them to indicate their character, "Hairlepp" and "Prigman." The runners seem to look down on everyone, although Cassidy, patronizingly finds himself thinking "this is real life" whenever he is around very poor, hardworking people. It reminded me of Marie Antoinette playing in her village hamlet with her friends, enjoying the "real life" of the peasants.
And I personally didn't like the main characters, particularly Cassidy. I just don't find these people likeable in their haughty jocularity, and Cassidy's wiser-than-thou translation of their behavior in expository scenarios for the reader.
There is one nice chapter toward the end as Cassidy prepares for the big meet (after a completely unbelievable scenario in which he is thrown off the team and then entered into the meet as a Finnish runner). The day before the meet, he goes to the track and walks the quarters, thinking through each segment, what he will feel and think, what he needs to think and feel to win, etc. As a runner, I do understand all those mental calisthenics that must go into not quitting, doing better, trying harder, etc. (But then this lovely interlude was ruined by a gratuitous and needless flashback.) There is also a TEENY TINY TINY TEENY TEENY TEENY ITTY BITTY bit of suspense about the final race, which helped me finish the "last lap."
I was a little surprised this book could find a publisher. I, however, do not recommend this book.