Tuesday, August 5

Deadline - Chris Crutcher

Diminutive Ben Wolf's got plans for his senior year - he's getting ready to leave the tiny Indiana town he's spent his whole life in and wants to use this year to get ready. That means reading widely, trying new things, and getting up enough courage to approach the object of his lust and admiration, volleyball star Dallas Suzuki. Ben didn't plan on his doctor detecting a rapidly progressing, pretty much untreatable (unnamed) blood disorder that's now given him a twelve month life expectancy.
Ben has always had a feeling he wasn't going to live long. He decides not to have treatment, which would make his bald, sick, and not extend his life by much; not to tell his family (poorly controlled bi-polar mother, laid-back dad, and spiritual twin brother Cody, who looks just like him only life-sized); and he decides to live like he's got no tomorrow - approach Dallas, try out for the football team, challenge his teachers, and reassess what he believes.
I love Crutcher's writing, and Deadline didn't disappoint. However, perhaps because I so enjoy his writing, I almost found myself ticking off the staple elements - athletic and grounded hero who tries to change the lives of those around him, sports star who doesn't get that it's about team work and not the individual, faded star who can't let go of his glory days, well balanced male role model, pedagogue who won't be moved from his right-wing view point, damaged female rising above the pain of childhood abuse, adult who's more than they seem, character from a previous book reappearing as a pivotal element.
It's to Crutcher's credit that, though I spotted at least some of the twists well before they were spelled out, Deadline is still a great book. Ben's a compassionate and vibrant character, and his journey is genuinely compelling. I particularly like how his initial acceptance, and the apparent wisdom of his decision, changes once he becomes symptomatic. The interpersonal relationships are deftly and realistically handled, the bond between the brothers is beautifully portrayed, and the evolution of the character (and history) of the town drunk was moving and surprising.
There are also some great reading suggestions. I already have (but have not yet read) Loewen's Lies My Teacher Taught Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong but now am also interested in Brown and Abel's Outgunned, Friday Night Lights (both the book and the series), and the autobiography of Malcolm X.
The football detail's sometimes a little thick for those of us not interested in gridiron (or even, dare I confess, Aussie Rules), but the writing's clear, compelling, and challenging, and the ideas just sparkle. Deadline isn't my favourite of Crutcher's works but it's up there, and he remains one of my favourite writers of all time. - Alex

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