by Willie Morris ‧ RELEASE DATE: Oct. 28, 1983
Black, bespectacled, 17-year-old Marcus Dupree, star running back for an integrated high school in Philadelphia, Miss., was ""the most sought-after and acclaimed"" young football player of 1982; and Morris (North Toward Home, Good Old Boy) goes to Philadelphia to cover that 1981-82 season here, with an overload of relevant/irrelevant digressions often swamping the central story. ""Was the white community using him? Or did the truth go further--that the parents, students, teachers, teammates there had intuitively adopted him? Was there a need for expiation in the town? And was he saving its soul? I wished to find out; I would become part of the boy and the town."" In between chunks of similar rhetoric, then, Morris talks to the locals about homegrown legend Marcus, about the town's apparently successful integration. He talks to Marcus and his family, goes to games (with play-by-play), responds to Marcus' ""greatness."" He recounts the area's racial history--including frequent, unnecessarily belabored flashbacks to the violent Sixties. (""I shall rely here, in paraphrase, on the well-documented account by Don Whitehead in his Attack on Terror: The FBI and the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi. . ."") With far less justification, he indulges in autobiographical effusions--on his own high-school days, his lifelong interest in sports, his love for dog Pete (whose death will later provide a maudlin fadeout), his feelings of symbolic kinship with Marcus: this ""narrative, much as an act of the subconscious, has really become a book about two small-town Mississippi boys--a seventeen-year-old black and a middle-aged white. . ."" And eventually the overlong mosaic comes to focus on quiet-but-frantic Marcus' need to choose (with his mother) among the dozens of college-football offers he's been getting: Morris sketches in the college-recruitment scene, its rules and sometime abuses (no blatant) ones in this case); and, in the book's final section, he gives a day-by-day account of Marcus' hectic, traveling bout of last-minute indecision as the ""salesmen"" come and go--the choices now down to Texas, Oklahoma, Southern Mississippi, and UCLA. (""What, pray, was going through the young man's thoughts?. . . Who could help our young man? Who might come forward now?"") After all the heavy build-up, however, this climax is a busy blur, more tiresome than suspenseful, without real connection to those larger themes. And, while a more disciplined reporter might have made a small, powerful book out of the personal/football/sociological interplay here, Morris' sprawling treatment--at its very best in the interview-evocations of daily life in today's Philadelphia--is only fitfully involving, only obliquely provocative.
Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1983
Page Count: -
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1983
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