March 29, 2010 § Leave a comment
I have wanted to read a Chris Crutcher novel since I saw him speak at the Iowa Library Association in 2007. It was my first professional conference, and he was both a keynote speaker and a presenter. During his keynote address, he read the first few pages of his book Deadline, and explained the plot. I remember thinking it sounded pretty good.
Like many of the other books I have already written about, I purchased Deadline last fall per the request of a faculty member. As soon as it was barcoded, I read it. I also recommended it to a friend, and she read it at the same time so we could discuss our opinions about the book.
The verdict? We both loved it. My friend told me she was surprised by the fact that she did, since the book revolves heavily around the main character’s experiences on his high school football team, and the subject is pretty morbid. I agreed on all points.*
Growing up in rural Idaho, Ben Wolf is old for his grade. As a child, he was small, so his parents kept him from starting school for an extra year, in the hopes he would grow to be the same size as the other children. As a result, he turns 18 the summer before beginning his senior year, and is in the same class as his younger brother.
Shortly after turning 18, Ben discovers that he has a terminal illness. He forbids his doctor from telling his family (which he can do, since he is “of age”), and decides to keep his diagnosis a secret.
Despite his short stature, Ben was a cross-country champ. His new mission, however, is to pack as much life into the year he has been told he has left. He drops cross country and tries out for football. He asks the girl of his dreams on a date. He drives his American Government teacher mad, asking tough questions, and debating him on every point. All the while, he fights to keep himself as healthy as he can, and debates the wisdom of keeping his condition to himself.
Crutcher packs a ton into this novel. And when I say a ton, I mean a TON: physical abuse, sexual abuse, family bonds, mental illness, racial tension, politics, religion, the pain of loss, the meaning of life… you name it, it’s probably there somewhere. I think he deals with all of these subjects extremely well, especially given the novel’s length (about 330 pages). I appreciated that no character is depicted in black-and-white terms; every person Crutcher introduces us to has a nuanced personality. A less-skilled author would not have been able to pull off so much in so little space anywhere near as effectively.
Ben’s voice is authentic. Having a brother who is the same age, I can vouch for the mannerism, phrases, thinking and speaking patterns of Ben and the other teenage characters.
If you read this novel, and I think you should, be prepared to be shocked, amused, enraged and saddened in turn. Also expect to stay up way past your bedtime, because you won’t want to put it down.
*Though, here I must confess that I really love depressing stories. The more depressing, the more I usually like it.