Witnessing a suicide prompts three friends to reevaluate their lives in Elphick’s tale of drive and discovery amid the celebrated world of polo.
Jessica Peters, a 48-year-old flamboyant beauty and onetime polo star, has just jumped off the roof of an eight-story chapel in Claremont, Calif. Burton, Mike and Danny are skateboarding in the church parking lot when they hear the ominous thump. Jessica’s suicide provokes 22-year-old Burton to investigate the familiar woman’s background since he, too, had attempted his own hanging after his father suddenly abandoned him and his mother. The angry, short-fused youngster propels himself into Jessica’s world of high-stakes polo and determines to write a book about the starlet’s fame and downfall. But polo thrusts a spell upon him, and he forfeits everything in favor of the sport. Mike and Danny jump on the life-change bandwagon as well, which leads Danny to a career in firefighting and Mike to live his dream of surfing the waves of Australia. While Elphick ekes out a few treats and surprises, the forced prose and implausible relationships—Burton falls in love instantly with an array of girls, including the dead woman—prevent suspension of disbelief. Contrived dialogue, clichés and intrusive italicized side-thoughts further ruin the experience. The things that do work are Elphick’s surprisingly moving denouement, and some anticipative plot threads, such as uncovering the secret Burton’s father, Reid, has been harboring for many years. The heart of the story surrounds Burton, including his tumultuous relationship with Reid, where each is prone to sudden unnatural outbursts in the course of gentle exchanges, and Burton’s disturbing oedipal obsession with his mother. Polo fans might find more favor, as Elphick based the story on Deborah Couples, the real-life polo champ, who succumbed to depression following her public divorce from her golf pro husband, Fred Couples.
A strained tale that may only satisfy diehard polo enthusiasts.