Monday, December 26, 2005

Book Review: Once a Runner - John L Parker Jr

Just finished Once a Runner by John L Parker Jr today. A fairly quick read. I had started it a couple of weeks ago and almost completely finished it on two train rides (approx. 45 minutes of reading each ride). I got to the point where I knew the end was close and wanted to be able to enjoy it. So rather than take it to work again, I held off reading until this week, vacation week, where one can truly enjoy the time with a good book.

John clearly captures the feeling of running. The time in the locker rooms, on the track, out on the roads... he has this down. I was not in his (or Cassidy's) class of running but I did compete in high school and college and later coached high school. He knows the inside outs and crafts a good story.

Ultimately, I was left unsatisfied on two counts. One, in the climatic race, Cassidy gets entered in the name of another runner. This does not sit well with me. Track is still not well accepted in the USA. You really only hear of it during Olympic years. To have the hero stoop to this level to succeed runs counter to the ideals of the true Olympic sport, especially with drug enhanced performances still in the news. (Yes, I confess, I am an idealist!)

Two, you don't find out his time in this climatic race. I don't want to reveal any more than this to spoil it for anyone who has not yet read the book. I have my suspicions what his time was but since John did not reveal it, Cassidy's finishing time is left open to speculation.

From the opening chapter:
He was going to have to pick up the thread of a normal life again and although he did not know exactly why, he had to start by coming back here, back to the greenhouse warmth of the Panhandle, back to the very quarter mile oval that still held his long-dried sweat. Back to September, the month of promises. He put his bag down by the pole vault pit, looked uptrack to make sure no one was coming, and then walked up to the starting line. God, he thought, one more time on the line.

In lane one, he stood very still, looking down at his street shoes (joggers now going around him with curious glances) and tried to conjure up the feeling. After a moment a trace of it came to him and he knew that was all there would be. You can remember it, he told himself, but you can not experience it again this way. You have to be satisfied with the shadows. Then he thought of the second and third laps and decided with a little twist of a smile that the shadows were sometimes quite enough.
Yes, the shadows can be very good!

Updated 4/7/09 with new link to Amazon page with re-issue of hard cover copy of the book!


Anonymous said...

They say his time on the last page of the second to last chapter. It was 3:52.5.

Anonymous said...

they say his time and he enter the race with a fake name b/c he was kick out of the race, but anyways the whole stadium cheers his name at the race. How could you miss that?

Steve Sherlock said...

That is not the point. The crowd knew he was in the race, they recognized him. They did not know he got false credentials to get in. He did.

He compromised his own integrity.

And the book condones that which is what I disagree with.

Anonymous said...

same person

he did so he wouldn't get caught. If he wanted to race he had to make sure the two most important people who could kick him out didn't catch him.

The crow did somewhat know of his fake credentials,the trainer who check him in knew, the announcer knew, the crowd knew. That after a while the crowd just said 'screw it' and cheered his very own name CASSIDY. like you said the crowd did did recognized him, so therefore he kept his integrity and identity. Beside his integrity was not his fake name, it was his running and racing.

pinsuda said...

Where were you able to find a copy of the book? I've been looking everywhere and am still coming up empty handed! Any suggestions on how I can get my hands on a copy?

Steve Sherlock said...

I picked up a copy several years ago from a used book store. That is probably the only source, unless you can find a library with one, or until there is another reprint... which would be a good thing.

Cheryl said...

It's been years since I've read it, and would like to read it a fourth time before reading "Again to Carthage". I've never read a novel twice before.

I think you have to understand the times....30 years ago, track & field athletes, for lack of a better word, got screwed. Race organizers would make $50K to get runners to a race - essentially appearance fees as we know them today -while the athletes got nothing. Except to compete.

And therein lies the wasn't about glory and ego. He didn't care if no one realized it was him, ever. Sure, they did, but that ulitmately didn't matter. He needed that chance to race, that chance to challenge himself and prove only to himself. This is one simple, obvious example of the many problems that existed, and athletes have had to take risks to affect change. I believe this is a way in which a novelist exemplified the constraints and injustice of the times.

I've competed many years (actually, started 25 years ago this month, since I was a teen), represented U.S. in international competition, set 4 American records, and you wouldn't know my name. It's not for the glory.
And I would do it again. C

Steve Sherlock said...

Cheryl, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I just finished "Again to Carthage" and want to go back and re-read "Once A Runner".

I may re-do this review with a re-reading considering "Again to Carthage".