Friday, September 25, 2020

56. The Jook by Gary Phillips

I picked this up on a whim at S.W. Welch.  It looked pulpy, the protagonist was African-American and an a pro football player.  I am still buying too many books and my on-deck shelf literally floweth over (or stacketh upwards).

The protagonist is Zalmont Raines, an once star wide reciever in the NFL who had caught a superbowl-winning touchdown pass and had been on the cover of Sports Illustrated.  At the start of the book, he is arriving at LAX, coming back from Europe where had just been cut from the Barcelon Dragons because of his gimpy hip.  We learn soon that he partied way too hard and much of his big salaries was gone.  He was also being chased by a baby momma (I don't think this term was around when this book was written in 1999) and a potential lawsuit for statuatory rape after getting a blowjob from a 16-year old girl in a wheelchair.  His goal is to get a spot on the LA Barons, the new expansion team in his hometown.

Zalmont is a selfish, cold person.  The book walks a thin line, you do sympathize with him but you also are constantly reminded what an asshole he is.  It's never an excuse, but the cuthroat nature of professional football and his own upbringing, are definitely present as factors in his behaviour.  The language is rich and there are lots of nerdy references.  Furthermore, the story keeps moving forward.  Nevertheless deep down, it is a pretty bleak book.  Call it black noir.  This is grown-up stuff.  Lots of sex and violence.  The final climax, a heist of a garbage truck would make a great action movie.

Some of the writing was a bit clunky, with abrupt transitions and the wrong balance of exposition.  Also, some of the dialogue sounded too similar among different characters.  There would be a tendency to speak in the vernacular and then in more nerdy, explanatory english.  However, as I said before, the story really keeps moving forward, there was a lot of action and you kind of dig the arrogant, son-of-a-bitch elite wide receiver. 

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