Doubleday, 163 pp, $19.95
It seems most men love to return to their "glory days" and relive that high time when they shone on the football field or the baseball diamond. The figure who looms largest in these Memory Lane trips is always the Coach.
Their Coach (always with a capital "C") was mountain high and made all the rules that governed the lives of his players. His voice was powerful and his word was law. No appeals. Love, hate and idolatry make a volatile brew, especially when teen-age hormones are added.
John Grisham's book has a delicious aroma of remembered youth, plus his note on the back flap telling us he was the quarterback on his high school football team, but never an All-American. It's hard to give up the suspicion of autobiography, but whether "Bleachers" is based on Grisham's high school years or not, the writer moves through every street of this little town and shines on the playing field.
Coach Rake is finely drawn, and as we get to know him, we understand his powerful influence on these young boys and how it lasted them all their lives when end runs and tackles were long over. Neely Crenshaw has returned to the town where he grew up and finds it almost unchanged, full of former teammates and heavily charged with emotions and events he thought long forgotten. His friends gather and party together, telling and retelling those stories that featured each one of them in starring roles, heroes all.
This is a short book, only 163 pages, but it will cast a spell over you as you enter that land where all the tales lead on to dazzling success or gales of laughter and everyone is included in the circle of warm remembering.
This is sports that appeals to all, whether or not you know a touchdown from an alley-oop. It's the people who supply the answers, explaining why these grown men still regard that part of their lives as the best and the brightest.
P.S. — Isn't it interesting that another of America's best-known contemporary novelists has chosen the same theme for his newest effort: Pat Conroy's "My Losing Year." His theme is the years he played basketball in college and is openly his own story. The Coach here is also 12 feet tall. It's a wonderful story, even if you don't know a dribble from a dunk. If you are a basketball fan, you'll be mad for this book.
"Bleachers" is available at Dockside Bookshop in Havensight Mall. To check out other Dockside favorites, click here.
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