Lentin’s debut novel follows the tumultuous journey of a football player imprisoned in his own body.
In one terrible moment in 1973, Mike Murphy’s life changes forever. The star quarterback of his high-school football team and destined for a Notre Dame scholarship, Mike is injured in a freak football accident and left paralyzed from the neck down. What follows is an insightful look at tragedy and its aftermath, and the meaning of life and death. Although Mike becomes an inspirational leader in his Pennsylvania town, he struggles with his absolute dependency on his mother and brothers, who care for him and keep him alive. Jumping around in time, the story spans the next 20 years, as Mike uses his athletic mindset to persevere through pain and despair, falls in love with a former high school cheerleader, Jenna, and experiences the limitations of their intimacy. Ultimately, the novel ends where it begins: in a hotel room with Dr. Jack Kevorkian, whom Mike has enlisted to help him die. The book, however, shies away from the controversy of assisted suicide and focuses instead on the difficult journey that leads to Mike’s decision. Along the way, Lentin provides an honest and often humorous account of daily challenges and triumphs. The scenes between Mike and his two brothers, who keep him connected to the outside world, are rendered with realism and affection and resonate with the men’s quiet strength. But Mike’s relationship with his estranged father is never fully explained, and this elusive thread proves distracting, especially as the book nears its climax. At times, the prose strains under the weight of too much sentimentality. Lentin’s novel is most engaging when grounded in the everyday struggles of Mike’s life: being fed by his mother, figuring out how to take his girlfriend on a “real” date, listening to the classic rock ‘n’ roll that provides an escape and fuels his desire for freedom. Lentin’s novel is a celebration of imagination, courage and choice.
Despite some heavy-handed prose, this novel inspires with its chronicle of perseverance and courage.