THE BEST THERE EVER WAS by John Ed. Bradley

THE BEST THERE EVER WAS

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Long-ago triumphs sustain an old football coach beset by disillusioned fans, a loveless marriage, and cancer--in a second novel from Bradley that's awash in the same nostalgia that powered his highly praised Tupelo Nights (1988). Thirty years ago Harold Gravely inspired his college team to a thrilling Sugar Bowl victory; one speech (his scatological ""tenpenny nail"" dressing-room exhortation) and one image (the Old Man riding high on the shoulders of his running backs) fixed the moment in time. But Harold is 63 now and has had seven bad seasons (the setting, by implication, is Baton Rouge)--alumni are calling for his resignation; insulting banners hang from the fiat houses. Meanwhile, his much younger wife Rena is as turned off as the fans; Harold's sterility has denied her a family, and his self-absorbed boorishness hasn't helped. (Harold's marriage gets equal time here with his career.) Rena is a solitary housewife, slowly drowning; Harold at least can ""warm the cushions"" in his office with his secretary, the obliging Mrs. Claude. But when Harold learns that he has lung cancer, he goes public with the result that his ""corny theatrics"" win an extension of his contract and a drive to erect a statue in his honor. This project obsesses Harold (""the desire to be recognized was like a carnal addiction"") to the point where he has a violent conflict with the sculptor. Melodrama now takes over--first in the bullpen at the police station, where Harold is confronted by the running back from whom he had appropriated Rena years before; and then at the stadium itself, where his mistress/ secretary's husband shows up to exact vengeance. Dreary, static work--partly because Bradley has kept his gift for comedy under wraps, partly because (unlike, for example, Jason Miller in That Championship Season) he has not found a way of keying the past into the present, and partly because Harold, though overripe for an epiphany, never has one.

Pub Date: Sept. 24th, 1990
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly--dist. by Little, Brown