Friday, July 24, 2015
Friday’s Forgotten Book: North Dallas Forty
Other than the team, few people know what really goes on in the locker rooms and at players’ parties. For a look at the over reliance on pain medications, the recreational drug use, the boozing, the hard partying and the sexual escapades, we will have to rely on Peter Gent’s 1973 novel.
Gent should know. He played for the Dallas Cowboys for five seasons in the 1960s (and note, he never calls the team in the book the Cowboys). But, did he accurately depict that world in his novel? Those who know are not telling, and Gent who once told, is no longer here. He passed away in 2011.
North Dallas Forty is the story of Phil Elliot, a wide receiver (as Gent was), who is nearing the end of his career and doing anything he can to keep playing. He is also doing as he is told by the team’s coaches and owners to garner favor in order to stay in the starting lineup.
Phil is basically a good guy and through his eyes we see the people involved in the sport. But Phil is no saint (that is an unintentional pun, for those who know the league).
The novel follows Phil through a crucial week in his life in which we see his painful recovery from the physical punishment of the last game through his preparation to play in the next one, and all the things he does in his off hours.
Phil has a rebellious side which makes it nearly impossible for him to toe the line. He knows this about himself and his urge to get away from the injuries and the feeling of being treated like an old piece of equipment by the team's bosses are in conflict with his need to stay employed. He worries about being replaced by younger athletes and having to look for some other line of work, which to him means a job that will never pay as well or be as much fun.
Peter Gent was a surprisingly good writer. A quick search to find out if he wrote the novel himself, or put his name on a ghost-written book, came up with a reference to Gent in the memoir of his agent, Sterling Lord. Lord said Gent was the author and that he, Lord, was surprised to find a former athlete who could write so well.
North Dallas Forty is a fascinating novel with some hilarious scenes, but be warned, the humor can be crude, the language is definitely locker room, and some passages are hard to stomach.