Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Every Man Also

Always interested in the work of Texas writers, I plucked this book off the "Texas" bookshelf at Half Price Books. The cover noted this book to be the "Winner, 1998 Texas Review Fiction Prize". The author is Robert Winship.

Winship evidently called upon his experience as a member of Rice University's 1950 Cotton Bowl team and, later, as a pro-football player with the Philadelphia Eagles, to cast his main character as a former small college football coach forced out of coaching and religated to the position of Athletic Director. It was never quite clear to me why this happened but it was the reason "Mase" Mason betrayed his school's team in the playoffs with the Bears.

Mason's team, the Warriors, lose the championship because Mason has given all the plays to the other team's coaching staff. He has done so as payback for being forced out of the coaching job which he loved so much and for which he felt he was uniquely qualified. The $100,000 he is to receive as a payoff was for insuring the point spread for a big-time Chicago gambler is to be turned over to him at a hill country deer lease where Mason has hunted for years. Being concerned about his personal safety should he go there alone and not wanting his wife to know what he's done, Mason invites Freida, a PhD collegue, to accompany him on the trip. Freida is desperate to get away from her current life because of disturbing discoveries in her experiment on rats which deals with the effects of human overcrowding.

Mason and Freida are toying with possible infidelity when a tragedy surrounding the ranch owner's mentally handicapped son occurs. Mason's subsequent realization of his true purpose in life is the the author's basic plot. The remainder of the story deals with Mason's and Freida's efforts on behalf of the son and their individual acceptance of new roles in attaining long-time personal goals. Mason decides to use the payoff money to correct the wrong he's done the Warriors and to help the retarded son of the ranch owner. Freida becomes the young handicapped man's advocate.

I especially liked the characters Robert Winship created for this story and the way he captured the truth of what it means to grow older in a world that no longer values wisdom and experience. As a "growing older" person, I feel Winship did a masterful job of protraying the nuances of "Mase" Mason. I think the plot of this story is an interesting one but I felt the story moved too slowly to adequately support it. I also found the first chapter confusing. I'm not sure the first chapter was really necessary, even had it been clearer.

As I am all about characters of late, I did enjoy the book enough to recommend it to anyone also interested in characters done with maturity and flawed grace. The understated but accurate "feel of Texas" in Winship's work is icing on the cake.