Lane’s debut novel is a doom-and-gloom tale about the travails of two high school basketball stars, a father and son.
Columbia City, Ore., is a small river town near the ocean, and it lives and breathes basketball. In 2007, in the school gym, alone in the dark and in his underwear, the 16-year-old Jimmy Kirkus is hurling himself against a brick wall. By the time he collapses, he’s covered in blood. This opening scene is both hook and fulcrum for a novel that spans 22 years and skips around chronologically. Back in 1985, Jimmy’s father, Todd, is a sensation on the court. Unable to deal with the pressure, Todd gets drunk before the championship game and is suspended. Then his Japanese-American girlfriend, Genny, tells him she’s pregnant, and in a drunken confrontation with the cops, Todd busts his knee; all his NBA dreams are over. Todd is not an attractive character (brash in victory, self-pitying in adversity), but he does marry Genny. Tragedy strikes when Todd falls asleep on the beach and their small daughter drowns. The town starts talking about the Kirkus Curse. It’s a regular gossip factory, as Lane stresses tiresomely; the mythologizing does the family no favors. Genny has two more kids, Jimmy and Dex. When Jimmy, on the first day of kindergarten, shoots nine baskets in a row, the grapevine hums: A new legend is born. Not until he’s 15, freshman year, does it fall apart; taunted by an opponent, he runs off the court crying, and suddenly he’s Jimmy Soft, until the wall incident, when he’s Kamikaze Kirkus. Now what? A suicide watch? Intensive therapy? No way. Todd yanks him out of the hospital. But with his team gunning for a state title, damaged Jimmy has a chance to return to the top of his game.
What might have been a savage indictment is instead a morally confused, ineptly plotted debut.