This is Paul Maurer’s first novel. He’s obviously a runner and I actually loved this book. Wait, did I just say that about a novel? Not two weeks ago Christina, one of my Tempe runners, lent me this novel on running. One – I really don’t like novels and two, I really don’t like novels. By the way, have I told anyone recently that I don’t like novels?
Ok, so I ask Christina what she thought of the book. It was “good” she says but without elaboration – only heightening my angst over being polite and having to read it. A week went by with it sitting on my desk before I picked it up. I gazed at the introduction pages and Steve Prefontaine’s quote – “To give anything less than your best is to waste the gift.” OK a good hook – quote Pre. I finally read just one short chapter (seven pages) during a brief break between appointments… and it spoke to me (unlike the other voices in my head).
This is a story of an elite yet unfulfilled runner (duh) with a checkered collegiate past – Brett Rodgers. Figuring out if he is running towards something or away from something is something most runners have either been asked or ask themselves. It is about relationships, family, partying, disappointments on and off the track, failure, redemption and a search for meaningfulness.
The journey through his graduate year at a new college explores strengths and vulnerabilities – but not just Brett’s. The story adeptly weaves the pasts successes and failures; glory and painful memories of the coach who extends a level of trust and expectation. In many ways he fills the void of Brett’s deceased father. Similarly, we get a glimpse into coach’s side-kick a burly trainer.
I easily imagined the accurately portrayed scenarios of the young running fraternity. Four runners who can’t live as roommates but develop a camaraderie next to none on the track and in their extra-curricular activities. The banter, partying, name calling, nicknaming, daring and gross-outs magically transported me to a time long ago. So many of my own memories poured out as I read and laughed out loud. I KNEW them all… everyone of those runners! The quick comebacks were creative, life-like as if borrowed from my past. I knew them in the likes of Rich, Glen, Bruce, John, Lester and Jim.
[My brother Jim and I were on high school track together. My brother has a habit of being one to say things to grab the spotlight – even in the most inappropriate times. One day our 400 pound coach got fed up with all his comments while warming up and told him very gruffly “Jimmy, stop being a ham and do the warm-ups!” To which my then sophomore brother’s admittedly poor self-censoring overtook him and replied, “Well that’s better than being a whole side of beef!” Jim’s life flashed before his eyes. Everyone scattered with half-stifled laughs as Coach went after Jim. Jim was fast but he remembers nothing after the coach created a solar eclipse above him. Workout was hell that day.]
But I digress. It will flood the memories of anyone who ran in high school or college. I don’t know if the rest of the runners of the running boom will get the kick out of it that I did. Pick the book up and read it. Give it to a running friend as a gift. As long as it isn’t someone who is easily disgusted with sophomoric-bodily function-animal urge type humor – they will laugh. They may even shed a tear for dreams lived, dreams lost and dreams regained; or maybe the precious “gift” in that little box at the end of the race.