THE OBSTACLE COURSE by J.F. Freedman

THE OBSTACLE COURSE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Episodic coming-of-age tale from Freedman, here showing little of the flair for high melodrama that marked his robust literary debut, Against the Wind (1991). The title refers not only to the obstacle course at the Naval Academy at Annapolis that narrator Ray Poole, 15, likes to sneak onto during the winter of 1957, but also to the barricades to happiness that he must leap on his way to manhood--starting with his family (womanizing dad; abused mom) and their barren life in the white-trash town of Ravensburg, Maryland. Like his friends, Ray is tough, quick with his fists, and not adverse to stealing to support his passion: the building of elaborate ship models, his way of sustaining his dream of going to Annapolis. The dream begins to look possible when, at a hobby store, Ray meets a retired admiral who shares his love of models. The admiral takes the bright if wayward boy under his wing, introduces him to Navy brass (and a lovelorn Navy brat), then gets him into a military prep school. But life deals a hard lesson about human nature and class realities when, after the theft of a figurine at the admiral's house, the admiral spurns the accused Ray rather than name the real thief, a kleptomaniac old friend; and the lesson is fortified as Ray is twice treated well by the generally despised blacks--first by a whore to whom he loses his virginity, then by a church congregation that takes him in after the boy, despairing, has ridden the rails into the Deep South. At story's end, Ray--battered but wiser--is back running the Annapolis obstacle course, his future a mystery ready to unfold. Ray's an appealingly spunky creation, but his adventures feel contrived--as if he's not living a life but being hustled through his paces toward Meaning by Coach Freedman. (First printing of 35,000)

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-670-85346-1
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1993




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