Monday, March 11, 2013

W10: Hold the Line

Vince looked at the machine with a curious smile and welcomed the break from receiving non-fiction books from the Biblio-Mat but this musty youth novel was almost disintegrating in his hands as he picked it up and he wondered if it would hold out for a complete read through. Like the main character, though, it would later prove to be more resilient than it first appeared.

The fabled dolphin jump play.
Flipping through the 235 pages of Hold the Line brought back fond memories for Vince as the 1929 young adult novel by Harold M. Sherman had similar trappings as Fury and the Mustangs, the first book he had ever received from the Biblio-Mat. He was much surprised to find that the dust jacket for this hardcover had held up very well for a book of this age and foxing was quite minor considering the paper quality.

While not being a great fan of spectating the sport of American football, Vince had always enjoyed the stories and films that were centered on it, to the point of watching Gridiron Gang four times in succession while adjusting the acoustics of his new home theatre system. The 1920s vernacular and sentence structure only added to the charm of the situation.

Although not enough as the Rock would have.
Like every sports tale, Hold the Line was no exception to the tried and true story arc of an underdog finding their courage push beyond their limits to win the game that matters most to the team. What was unforeseen to Vince, though, was how little conflict was present. Following the story of Judd Billings, an uncoordinated, shy, runt who was weak at heart on account of being raised by his mother instead of his father (it was the 1920s after all), living in the shadows of his brother Bob, the high school football legend who had recently left for college. Just as Vince begun to wonder at the types of obstacles Judd would have to overcome, he turns into brilliant scholar, learns to be a fearless athlete, becomes the most popular kid at school, and scores the winning touchdown of the big game in the span of 60 pages. Wonders of wonders!

All this, of course, resulted from a letter Judd had received from his brother telling him that the key to success is to simply get better at everything. Feeling a tinge of sentiment and fraternal affection, Vince decided that why he too would send his younger brother a note of support. “Get better at everything. I believe in you, old chap.” he wrote in his electronic mail. “Are you drunk? Dude, it’s only 1 pm…”, his brother replied back. He’ll come around, Vince told himself. He’ll come around.

The rest of the book was entertaining to Vince, but ultimately it lacked the substance he was used to. Judd moves off to college to take his brother’s place on the team and the chapters following the move eschew actual football playing to recount his hijinks as a new student thrown in with the seniors. Unlike most stories about freshmen, though, every chapter has him coming out ahead, down to the hazing rituals that backfire. At the 90 page mark he arrives at college and wins over his new roommate.  On page 110 he is accepted onto the team after showing his kick. At 120 he bests the local tavern’s untamable donkey. 130 shows him out-pranking the team bully. 150 has him rescuing five people from a fire. From that point it started to get far-fetched. If the book was a hundred pages longer, Vince was sure Judd would cure world hunger and colonize the moon.

But could he have remembered Polly's name?
When the book finally moved to the big game, though, Vince found himself entranced as he usually does in these situations. This book was clearly published before the era of losses with heart being considered victories so he knew Judd would prevail. But even though the final college game used the same plot device as the high school game, the ending none the less contained an unexpected twist that carried it beyond what has become the standard Hollywood fare.

Book rating: 8.5/10 (Rudy, this is not. But uplifting nonetheless)

Random quote: “Bully work!” complimented Bob, warmly, “Your first tackle was a peach!”

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