Ginsberg’s novel depicts the rise and fall of small-town quarterback phenom Joe Sachuck.
Sachuck’s athletic life starts on the kind of quasi-mythical story arc football fans love. He’s said to have a certain spark early on, though Ginsberg resists the temptation to make him an instant hit wherever he goes, from high school to the pros. Instead, there’s respect for the work and personal sacrifices he undertakes as a driven athlete whose only goal is making it to the pinnacle of his profession. Family problems pop up, too, including a convincingly complicated story about his father who alienated the whole family while providing the toughness and dedication necessary for his son to succeed. There are even some solid parallels between Sachuck and Gary Campbell, a loner who sets in motion the trouble that eventually overtakes Sachuck. All the plot points and characters are there, but readers don’t get to see them firsthand. Instead, Ginsberg presents them through the device of a first-person narrator gathering the facts from newspapers, through wooden dialogue, from the Sachuck family and even his own cousin telling the story, giving it the stiff quality of a secondhand story told by someone who may or may not have all of the information. The format also paints the narrator, Fred, as a kind of silent observer who doesn’t seem to serve any real function in the story he’s telling. Characters will sometimes address him by name in dialogue, further removing the audience from actual events. Later on, the story of Campbell’s fall from grace on Wall Street begins and ends in a chapter fewer than two pages long. When Sachuck is drafted by a pro team and goes through grueling training to make the team, readers don’t see Joe slave over his playbook or take a hit on the field; instead, that information is passed on through a conversation with his brother, Tommy. The narrator often quotes a character without giving any kind of setting, making the information feel even more detached.
Contains elements of a compelling story but seen through a dull lens.