What I read for the NFL championship game
I will likely have more to say later, especially about Peace's prose style, notably his repetition of words, names, and phrases. And I'll compare those repeated words, names, and phrases to themes in a piece of symphonic music, because no immediate literary parallels to Peace come to mind.
A few thoughts on Red or Dead:
1) I commented last week that:
"The only thing that turned me off a bit in the early pages was that repetition of `In the winter-time. In the night-time.' It was not clear to me why Peace did that. Perhaps it will become so later."It has.
2) Is Red or Dead historical fiction? It does as convincing a job of capturing the spirit of a place and of a time before that author's own, yet it is in no sense the story of Bill Shankly set against the cultural upheaval soon to burst forth from Liverpool and shake the world. The only reference through the novel's first 280 or so pages to that other Liverpudlian cultural phenomenon of the early 1960s is indirect, and all the funnier for that.
3) The repeated phrases, one of which I mentioned above, are like themes in a symphony, or like leitmotifs in an opera by Wagner. Each accompanies a repeated action on Shankly's part, coming to stand for that action. Peace so ingrains the leitmotifs in the reader's mind (or at least in mine) that the slightest variation has great effect, opens my eyes wide, lets me know that something big is happening.
4) Red or Dead is no crime novel (though Peace is the author of the four novels collectively called The Red Riding Quartet). But the one death so far in the book is infinitely more affecting than a thousand crime-novel prologues that shove the victim's agony or innocence down the reader's throat. That Peace deals with the death so sparingly and that Shankly resumes his work routine so soon afterward makes the death all the move effective, and all the more revealing of Shankly's character.
5) Shankly was known as an obsessive coach, and the novel is full of scenes of Shankly working late, Shankly planning strategy, Shankly thinking ahead. Yet Shankly, or Peace's version of him, is miles removed from the cliché of the American football coach so dedicated to his job that he sometimes sleeps in his office (but not so dedicated that he does not quit after just a few years to work for ESPN). The book reads as if Peace had deliberately taken on the challenge of making something compelling and original of a figure who, in the deadening, simplifying hand of American sports journalism, would be the sum of clichés (obsessive worker, man of the people who thanks the fans, family man).
6) The humor, as in Shankly's reply to a fan who begged for tickets to an important match with the argument "But I was born in Liverpool."
"Then you should have stayed here!" replies Shankly. "You should never have moved to Birmingham."7) The soccer. Peace gradually works discussions of soccer strategy into the book, so telling and so sparing that they held my attention, and worked as part of the novel's action, even though I'm no particular soccer fan.
OK, it's early days. I have 400 pages yet to read. But if Red or Dead were a soccer team and my reading of it a game, it would be ahead, 4-0, with four minutes still to play in the first half.
© Peter Rozovsky 2014