DERBY by John McHenry


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A mid-20th-century, coming-of-age novel follows two fraternity brothers.

Mac and Weber are every inch the slackers everyone from their Ohio University fraternity expects. While global tensions may be rising, their biggest concerns are the next party, the next conquest, the next gut-busting prank—even if Mac hasn’t managed to match the least of Weber’s apparent sexual exploits and calls a lot of their wasted time pathetic in retrospect. And it’s in precisely this tradition that they embark on the classic hedonistic pastime of hitchhiking, specifically to the Kentucky Derby, where they hope successful betting will take them to new heights of debauchery. But even on this kind of adventure, life catches up with the participants, and the boys are tested again and again, witnessing death, police brutality, and all manner of people at their very worst. The specter of the Vietnam War hangs over it all, as they encounter mentally ill veterans and see the consequences of the conflict much more closely than they had on their fraternity’s TV. For Mac, the trip is a quest for maturity, growth, and bravery, although it takes a while for him to realize that. Courage and conviction have a cost, and the act of paying it sets him on the beginning of an even more difficult path. McHenry’s (Black Lick Creek and the City of Broken People, 2016) tale delivers wit and wisdom. It is meandering and wild, ready at any time to offer an aside on the fraternity’s escapades or Weber’s constant bragging and storytelling. The down-to-earth prose and the quality of the pacing give the novel the feel of something that the reader is hearing about at a bar from one of the regulars, an organic sensibility that is the book’s greatest strength. At the same time, Mac’s introspection and self-loathing seem incredibly real and more personal than one might get from oral tales. His struggle with his lack of experience and cowardice is a frequent presence but not an overbearing one, giving the reader a sense of camaraderie with both him and Weber and a vested interest in how their saga ends.

An entertaining romp with a complex emotional core.

Pub Date: Oct. 24th, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-977973-03-0
Page count: 278pp
Publisher: CreateSpace
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 2017


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