Stephens outlines a washed-up golden boy’s second chance at enlightenment in this debut novel.
The greatest moment of Donald O. Gibson’s life was becoming the unlikely star of a Sugar Bowl game in 1952 when the third-string quarterback came in to win the championship for his Maryland Terrapins. Since then, Donald has had to work for nothing: jobs, women, friendship, and recreation have come to him based solely on that game. If this sounds like a dream life, it isn’t. At 47, he feels washed-up, empty, and devoid of any meaningful accomplishment. Then a chance at renewal appears from an unlikely source. He discovers that Aunt Dixie has died and left him her estate on the Hawaiian island of Lanai. All that Donald must do to claim the inheritance is to live there for three years. The catch is that Dixie was a member of a religious community—a nondenominational church that placed golf at the center of its teachings. Led by their “Kahuna,” an enigmatic man named Bobby Joe Hu, the congregation believes that golf is the path to communing with nature and achieving a state of balance. For a house in Hawaii, a group of religious oddballs and a few rounds of golf are no price to pay. But, as Donald should well know, easy gifts aren’t always what they seem. Stephens is a talented storyteller. His simple prose suits the quirky, original narrative. His characters are often lightly sketched, especially when first introduced, but when Stephens slows down, as when he describes the methodical practices of the church members, his gifts reveal themselves: “Dixie wrapped a string of the invasive Poka vine around her hand and followed it back to its roots….She dug until the roots had been pulled up and then she stuffed the detritus into the back pocket of her dungarees, all in the vain hope of keeping the Poka from growing back.” This book is about golf and God. Yet it’s also stranger than its leisurely premise suggests, and it holds some welcome surprises.
An odd but entertaining novel of unexpected redemption.