With his marriage over and his business affairs gone murky, the narrator of this uneven debut has only the memory of his glory days on the basketball court as a youth.
In a story that bounces around like an errant foul shot, Joe Knight delivers alternating sections about life in the 1970s as a teen formed by TV, basketball, and music and as an adult adrift. There are recurring interludes on William Penn, the early history of Philadelphia, where the story is set, and brick-making as well as repeated references to Walt Whitman and the Band. “I might be scattered, but that’s okay,” Joe says early on. For a time he focuses on basketball, and fans of the sport will enjoy what Morris (White Man’s Problems, 2014) calls “the perfect harmonic convergence” of good players melding into a great high school team. The sections on Joe’s rise after college from negligible jobs to founding an ad firm that quickly gets hot and leads to an eight-figure buyout hum along at a snappy pace. All is not blue sky, though. As a boy, Joe witnessed something in a church that he holds secret for years. The wealthy adult sours on marriage, and divorce finds him compulsively bedding strippers (the sex scenes aren’t subtle). A self-loathing loner, Joe seems to have left any joy in life on the hardwood courts of high school. When a former teammate tips him to a criminal probe into the buyout, the trouble threatens to entangle the friends of his youth (and the payoff may even help explain those recurring references). The tension surrounding the investigation and legal matters is well-handled, a credit perhaps to the author’s day job as an entertainment lawyer.
A dark and busy rise-and-fall tale, the book doesn’t gel quite as well its young hoopsters.