A debut memoir offers a decade’s worth of insider stories from a roller derby star.
Early on, Smith says he is writing this book for the many roller derby “fans who love the game and travel four hundred to five hundred miles to attend matches in their area.” Indeed, this is a work for devotees, those familiar with the rules and terminology, not to mention the players, of a sport that seems to have reached its peak in the early 1970s. It is also for his fellow skaters, who should thoroughly enjoy the recollections. Other readers may wish to Google a glossary of the lingo to follow along. Still, the author offers plenty of captivating tidbits for the nonaficionado. Smith has a compelling personal story to tell, and the on-track and off-track antics of the professional men and women who willingly endured all manner of broken body parts to partake in the joy of skating remain quite astounding. The back stories of heavy drinking and fast driving could put today’s bad-boy athletes to shame, although there is a noticeable respect for women among this group. Smith describes a violent combat sport, with fans happy to join in the mayhem. After 1973, the derby became scripted: plays and fights were prearranged, and that’s when Smith and his then-wife, Francine Cochu, a derby star in her own right, decided to retire. The author examines the uniqueness of roller derby: teams comprised a men’s group and a women’s group, and the final outcomes were determined by combining the two scores; players drove from town to town in 16-to-17-day spurts without a break; the team had to set up and tear down its own derby tracks in each town; and the skaters received terrible pay. Smith delivers what is really a series of vignettes, often forsaking chronology for the memory of the moment, so there is considerable jumping back and forth in time. This sometimes results in a tedious repetition of events and personal history that should be summarized in the second or third mention rather than repeated. But his text turns out to be comfortably conversational, best in small doses.
An intriguing peek into a piece of Americana that will likely appeal mainly to derby enthusiasts.