by Inman Majors; Norton, 2012; 256 pages; $25.95
It’s a decidedly comic novel this time out for Inman Majors, author most recently of “The Millionaires,” a thought-provoking novel about the Southern way that bears a striking kinship to the classic “All the King’s Men.” In its own way, this new novel takes as many risks about its subject as his previous one took about its own.
“Love’s Winning Plays” is brave enough to take on the world of college football, and Majors does so with a satiric edge that we expect from the likes of Kingsley Amis. Not much of college football escapes the author’s scrutiny: first-year professors, useless academic programs, overzealous fans, desperate fund-raising, self-serving sports writers and coaches’ wives. For good measure, Majors mixes in popular music and book clubs, opera and football blogs, oh, and golf.
In the midst of all of this is Raymond Love, non-coaching graduate student assistant coach for an SEC football program. Raymond is an ill-starred hero, who has very little money to his name and even less duplicitousness. He does have a pretty young woman named Brooke, who, much to Love’s eventual surprise, turns out to be the daughter of his school’s athletic director. There’s also Julie, another graduate student for whom he feels an increasing attraction.
Then there is, most definitely, Coach Woody, connoisseur of opera and George Dickel, Dobermans and White Castle. Coach Woody becomes the charge of Love at the weeklong Pigskin Cavalcade, a fundraising event at which hapless Assistant Coach Love is expected to have Coach Woody on time for everything from banquets to golf so as to glad-hand as many prospective donors as possible.
As he routes Coach Woody, Love stumbles along hallways of rabid fans, obnoxious donors and a coach’s wife who expertly navigates her way around both her husband and an opportunistic sports writer.
At every turn, it is Love’s ingenuousness — and the respect he develops for the coach in his charge — that protects him even as he eventually comes to understand “how little he knew about college football and the ancillary things that attend it …. He knew football and how to coach it, but not much about the rest.”
It is that bent that stands Love in good stead. The Pigskin Cavalcade becomes a romp for the reader, but it’s a journey of initiation for Love. “Love’s Winning Plays,” to its winning credit, elicits smiles instead of winces. It makes us grateful to have been plopped down into a world brimming with Majors’ generosity of spirit for a sport he obviously cherishes.
Steven Whitton is a professor of English at Jacksonville State University.