Elegiac but hopeful novel, originally self-published, about the redemptive power of people—and, of course, roundball.
Sam Pickett is a mess of a man. He has a good excuse, having witnessed his wife’s murder in a fast-food joint back in the big city, with bits and pieces of her “spattered on the wall, shrapnel from her head, small bits of brain and bone, skin and hair, sailing down the stainless steel on a sea of gore.” Yuck, you may say—and so does he, dropping everything, only to rediscover himself in a small town in Montana, tucked away in a valley surrounded by tall mountains and only a single paved road. “It was hard to tell where the fields and cow pastures ended and the town began,” writes West (Finding Laura Buggs, 1999, etc.), making it a fine place for Pickett to leave the world behind. Alas, no such luck, for in his new role as high-school teacher and emissary from civilization, he finds himself called on to make Willow Creek a better place by giving its residents something to live for in the form of a decent basketball team. He recruits an improbable Scandinavian exchange student (“Olaf, you’re the most dangerous center in the tournament…a Maalox Moment for all opposing teams”), rounds up a few other sports fans, enlists the townies and works his way through angst, a sort of outtake from Hoosiers without the DTs. The story almost begs to be layered in cliché, but West steers clear of it and of sentimentality; his characters act and speak as real people as they make their way toward the satisfying conclusion.
Worthy of a place in Montaniana alongside Ivan Doig and Deirdre McNamer, this is a modest tale, elegantly written—and, in the bargain, there are multiple sightings of Man of La Mancha for the Dale Wasserman fans in the audience.