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Bleachers by John Grisham

John Grisham
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Arrow Books (December 1, 2004)
181 pages
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Literature & Fiction

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  • Blackbrand
Despondent and adrift, former high-school All-American football star Neely Crenshaw returns to his childhood home to grieve -- for his terminally ill coach, lost dreams and an adult life of frustration, futility and fear. It's hard not to feel for Neely, and John Grisham trots out every convention to enlist the reader in the star's legion of fans. "Bleachers" is an effective, sensitive and tidy portrait of the impact of high-school football on the men who played the game and an examination of the enduring legacy of a coach who inspired loathing and love in his players. The novel is also melodramatic, predictable and manipulative, and instead of a being a genuinely moving tribute to a coach's undying presence, "Bleachers" meanders in familiar territory, forfeiting integrity for clichés.

Before there was Neely Crenshaw, there was Chip Hilton, whose wholesome exploits on the athletic field made him an icon for the Baby Boomer generation. Hilton's coach was a genuine role model, never compromising his athletes' need for authentic validation to the altar of victory. In turn, Hilton's inevitable victories comforted readers who needed assurance that right prevails, honor is worth the effort and adult role models exist in America's high schools.

Crenshaw's Coach Rake is a complicated but flawed man, driven to win, devoted to excellence, and inflexible in his insistence on practice, execution and fearless performance. His former players never seem to grow up, suspended in memory, frozen on the picture-perfect gridiron of Messina High School. As stereotyped as Chip Hilton was in the 1960s, Neely Crenshaw is even less complicated. His angst is tiresome, his hidden secrets obvious. Even before Coach Rake dies, we know his players will revisit the past, confront their ghosts and come out of the valley of death ennobled.

What makes this pat formula work is Grisham's gift with dialogue. Neely confronts teammates (one a model of middle-class stability, one an inmate, one gay) as well as his spurned former girl-friend with a combination of stoic pain and courageous determination. Through this gentle odyssey, we watch a grown man truly become a functional adult. But the observations require us to wade through saccharine vignettes, absolutely contrived conversations and stereotyped characters.

In the most painful sense, Grisham is preaching to the choir. Those who are less than enthralled with football or who are aware of its limits will find "Bleachers" effective propaganda but inadequate literature. Those who have played the game, who constantly relive their pasts and faithfully advocate the sport as the salvation of our society will sleep with the novel under their pillows.
  • Mitynarit
This book was recommended to me because of the introspection and personal revelations in the wake of the coach's impending death. I think that most people over 50 will be able to related to the memories, the mistakes, and the regrets referenced in this book. The characters are more flat than usual for a Grisham novel and lack the detailed developent I associate within author. This quality makes the difference between a penetrating tale and an interesting narrative.
  • Arilak
This slim (168 pages) novel follows a week in the vigil and funeral for an historic high school football coach in a small town devoted religiously to the sport. Actually, fanatics, crazed, zealots, insane boosters and other, even stronger words come to mind to describe the town's commitment, The pending death of the coach gives reason for a goodly number of his 700-plus former athletes to come into town. Neely - the knee-damaged super quarterback of the stunning 1987 state championship -- is back, for the first time in a long time. He, not the dying coach, is the center of the story.
Supporting Neely is a good array of colorful characters, high school jock stereotypes - the gangly, misfooted punter who later comes out of the closet and now owns a book store, the star receiver now managing the local bank, the convict, the ex-convict, and the current sheriff, the scrawny back who suffers a terrible fate, and more. And there is the memory of the perfect, dumb, devilish, blonde cheerleader, who is out of town but on the mind of more players than just Neely. She took Neely away from another stereotype: the cute girl who grows up to be perfect. Neely can't forget her and she can't forgive him for leaving her for the legs and lungs of the vixen.
There is not much time to develop the characters, not in these few pages. Two threads run through the book: the death that led to the coach's firing and the mystery behind that 1987 state championship when, trailing 31-0 at the half, Neely and Silo (Yes, he's built like a silo; there's also one athlete named Hindu.) lead the team back for a miraculous win. Best of all, one alum drags out a tape of the second half, allowing a radio broadcast to magnify the mystery: Why did the coaches not return to the field for the second half.
The funeral and the final showdown with the jilted first love provide answers. While no great novel, and no great work of art, "Bleachers" offers a sweet trip down memory lane for any boy who ever fastened a leather chin strap on an old high school helmet, and who never got the girl, the championship, or the short-lived, bittersweet glory. And you can read it in ninety minutes. Or rent "Everybody's All-American" to watch Dennis Quaid play someone quite like Neely.
  • Ximinon
Both the plot and character development were interesting, but all together, the book was slightly boring. I have read lots of other books from this author, and they were all fantastic reads, so maybe it was just this one book.
  • Fek
You don't have to be a sports fan to enjoy this book. This books about life, growing old, and thinking about what is important in our lives. A thoughtful and nostalgic John Grisham continues to be a great story teller.

We see the story through the eyes of Neely Crenshaw, an All-American quarterback, who was brought back to his old town by the death of his coach Eddie Rake. Through his eyes we relive the highs and lows of Eddie Rake's live. We learn that even great people can make mistakes, we learn how to forgive, and how to ask for forgiveness.

It is the kind of story that touches you and makes you feel good after you finished it.
  • Uthergo
Very interesting and easy read. It took me a good two days to complete this novel, mostly because I was hooked. It's a great story and it really reveals characters of the head coach, throughout the novel. As a reader you understand throughout the novel, why this head coach was so important to this town.

I also found it interesting to read about people returning back to town after been gone for over 15 years. Good novel.