John Grisham writes beach books. They are fast and fun to read. They usually deal with legal issues. His book, Bleachers, departs from his usual subject and deals with high school football.
"High school all-American Neely Crenshaw was probably the best quarterback ever to play for the legendary Messina Spartans. Fifteen years have gone by since those glory days, and Neely has come home to Messina to bury Coach Eddie Rake, the man who molded the Spartans into an unbeatable football dynasty." Now as Coach Rake's "boys" sit in the bleachers waiting for the dimming field lights to signal his passing, they replay the old games, relive the old glories, and try to decide once and for all whether they love Eddie Rake - or hate him. For Neely Crenshaw, a man who must finally forgive his coach - and himself - before he can get on with his life, the stakes are especially high.
I found the book trite and cliched, but hey it was fun to read. It doesn't require much concentration or effort.
The creative tension is derrived from football glory days gone awry for players as well as a hallowed coach. In spite of regrets and some awareness that the values that drove them during their winning football days were bogus, they still maintain, in the face of death, that what was done had a touch of greatness to it. It seems counterfeit and a stretch to me, but I am sure that football fans and people who get their sense of self esteem from identification with sports teams will resonate.
Good mental health is based as much on positive values as anything. The value of winning at all costs even to the extent of maiming one's opponent is sick. It is unhealthy for the players, the opponents, and the fans who revel in the lust of the win. There is something greedy, lustful, and obscene about winning as a result of exploiting others including oneself. Coach Rake exploited his players whom he claimed to love to the point of killing one of them inadvertently, and leaving many of the others hating him even as they question their loyalty (love) for him. It reminds me of abused children who still love their parents.
This abusive exploitation supposedly brings Coach Rake, as well as the players he exploited and the fans, to the brink of "greatness". It reminds me of the greatness and grandeur of the Third Reich. Evil and cruelty can appear "great" in the awe we feel as we view its power. There is a very thin line sometimes between awesome power used for constructive purposes to create and destructive purpose to destroy. It is this ambivalence between good and evil, creation and destruction, that leaves us confused about insanity and greatness. They sometimes look like the same thing.
As Coach Rake lies dying he has some regrets as well he should have. Too bad he didn't recognize the negative impact of his destructive values sooner. As people reflect on the passing of Coach Rake there is a depression that sets in not only about glory days past, but about maybe having chosen poorly and valued the wrong things. If this is one of Grisham's points in his story, he could have done a better job of making it.
I don't necessarily recommend this book, but if you have nothing better to do it will help pass the time, and it certainly is better than TV.