Star quarterback, apostate priest, CEO, whore. They’re a motley crew with a common fate in store: humiliation.
Keating’s dark debut offers a parade of characters but no plot. They live in a postindustrial city, a dismal place where feral dogs prowl the streets. A Jesuit school is all that remains of its former glory. The richly endowed school’s attempt at urban renewal is a spanking new football stadium, but don’t expect a full-bore satire about this deal between God’s messengers and Mammon. Instead, Keating zeroes in on Frank McSweeney, the massive quarterback who will surely lead his team to victory in the game of the season, set for the Day of the Dead, right after Halloween. Doesn’t happen. At a Halloween party in a flophouse, degenerate senior Will de Vere offers Frank, already drunk and stoned, a treat: the banged-up-but-still-feisty whore, Tamar. Next day, Frank is a wreck, the game lost, the season over. His humiliation is total but not worth dwelling on; Keating has many more victims lined up. There’s the coach, forced to pay his flophouse rent by bedding his landlady, “this tusked and taloned tarn-hag.” (Hyperbole is Keating’s trademark.) There’s Will’s father, Edward, CEO and school donor, now facing bankruptcy. He’s enjoying oral sex in a cab with Tamar when the cops arrest them; the fallen titan must then service his cellmates. Father and son will both meet grisly ends. There's no protagonist in this panorama of depravity, though the school looms over the action. Its priests are sinners too (their housekeeper is also their procuress), but only one of them is punished, the apostate Father Loomis, who has married off his most pious students to a bunch of prostitutes. “Life uses us as battering rams, one person against the other, and few…escape the catastrophe,” comments the omniscient narrator, or puppet master.
That’s a rare philosophical observation in an overwrought work that puts sensationalism ahead of vision.