This scattershot debut novel about scandal in professional basketball shows flashes of virtuosity, though some of the writing clangs off the rim.
There’s a jittery brilliance to the book’s prologue, in which the Kobe Bryant rape case is used as a launching pad for fiction that draws plenty of inspiration from recent years’ headlines. It begins in staccato rhythm, relating and repeating the facts of a case in which a famous basketball player checks into a hotel, meets a girl whom he believes is there to service him, leaves her dead and flees. In the mind of Gilbert Marcus, a renowned athlete since high school, what he has committed is neither rape nor murder, though the society that has let him coast through a life of limitless privilege isn’t about to let him slide on this one. The rest of the novel can’t sustain that opening momentum, as it details the backstory that has brought Gilbert to this critical juncture. His father is a former pro-basketball journeyman who never fulfilled his potential and who drills Gilbert to become the star that Mervin Marcus could never be. When Gilbert finishes high school, he jumps to the pros as a can’t-miss prospect (giving the novel a slightly dated feel, since the league no longer allows this). Though Gilbert isn’t Kobe (there are traces of Tiger Woods and LeBron James mixed in), other characters are barely disguised stand-ins for Shaq and Michael Jordan, while one seems like a bad-boy amalgam of Allen Iverson, Dennis Rodman and Ron Artest. The lives of most of these professional basketball players are as seamy as their public images are polished. While Gilbert is extraordinarily precocious as an athlete, he has barely progressed beyond puberty in his relationships with his teammates and his sexual relations, which he finds unsatisfying and his partners find weird.
Though the developing writer has considerable stylistic flair, the novel mixes slam dunks with air balls.