“Love’s Winning Plays: A Novel”
Author: Inman Majors
Publisher: W. W. Norton &Company
“Love’s Winning Plays” is Inman Majors’ fourth novel since completing his MFA in creative writing here at Alabama. There was a restless young man novel, “Swimming in Sky,” set in Knoxville, then a fine comic novel, “Wonderdog,” set in Tuscaloosa.
“The Millionaires,” a strong novel about the machinations behind the Knoxville World’s Fair, did not receive the praise it deserved, possibly because reviewers were expecting another funny novel like “Wonderdog.”
Now, here is that comic novel and we should be grateful to have it. Comic writing in the vein of Roy Blount, Jr., or Dan Jenkins is in short supply and though this novel is not perfect, it is plenty good enough.
Majors, nephew of famed Tennessee head coach Johnny Majors, has published a two- pronged satire. “Love’s Winning Plays” pokes fun at both the world of SEC football and book discussion groups, mainly female.
An unlikely combination of targets, yes, but it works this way.
Raymond Love is a graduate assistant at a university like Alabama or Tennessee. He is taking an MA in Sports Management and doing well. He has A’s in Leadership Theories of Sport, Research Techniques in sport, Advanced Biomechanics of Human Movement (also called” how we run and throw”) and Advanced Psychology of Sport. His term paper, “Applying the Principles of B. F. Skinner to High School Field Goal Kicking” was a winner.
Love’s assistantship is technically as a coach. He is so low on the coaching depth chart, however, he is not even allowed onto the field at practice, but he has ambitions.
It is springtime, and Coach Love is asked to participate in the Pigskin Cavalcade, a tour around the state wherein coaches meet with boosters at various country clubs, even a “yacht” club.
At these stops, they all play golf with the locals, and the head coach, Von Driver, gives talks at the rubber chicken dinners. Von Driver is a Yankee and of the “new breed of corporate businessman as head coach, deadly serious and speaking in punchy sound bites.” Coach Driver is learning to say “folks” in each sentence and is trying on different hat styles to come up with HIS trademark hat. Von Driver’s stump speech, if we may call it that, is only a hair more ridiculous than many we have actually heard.
“Handle the pressure and the pressure won’t handle you.”
“The enthused team efforts for sixty minutes.”
“The greatest ability is coachability.”
“Loyalty is a two way street that always circles back to respect.”
“The I-N in win is in you.”
Driver is a good coach, actually, but the Pigskin Cavalcade is about wooing alums, supporters, and, especially, boosters.
Raymond Love’s job on the Cavalcade is to ride herd on Coach Woody, the best character in the book, who drinks too much, loves both opera and classic country and hates sycophantic and egomaniacal boosters and most sportswriters , especially on line.
Majors has great fun with a chat room run by The Gridiron Wizard (Ninja master of Gridiron Gurus) that includes KidGenius, Ball Stud and TNT, football “experts” all. The Wizard, a “small, mustachioed, reddish man whose few stubborn locks of hair had been superglued into place sometime in the previous decade,” is the state’s premier sportswriter, Clay Dibble, who writes entirely in faux Hemingway sentences: “Sunday was a cold day. A perfect day for football. Maybe the punter didn’t notice.” Etc.
As an assistant coach, Raymond lives in an entirely male world, so he has joined a book discussion group to meet girls and has met Brooke, a beauty.
The group, nine women and two men, has been reading and discussing: “My Southern Girlhood: A Memoir of Momma, Elvis, and a One-Eyed Cat Named Sue,” “The Day Aunt Gertrude Burned Down the Piggly Wiggly,” “The Bon Bon Girls,” about “a group of single women in New York City who combined a love of gourmet food and sex,” and “Recipe for Love.”
Majors has noted, hilariously, that many novels these days include food and recipes. Book group books include discussion questions at the back and Brooke assigns Raymond the following: “Were you surprised by Brylin’s decision to intentionally lose the soufflé championship so that Gustav could win?”
Of course the Pigskin Cavalcade is a fiasco. Coach Woody gets drunk and acts out, the boosters hate Love, and both his relationship with Brooke and his coaching career are put in terminal jeopardy.
It should be noted, however, that football players themselves and the game of football are NEVER made fun of. Coach Woody and Love worship the game. The game is sacred. Love and Coach Woody talk football all night and happily watch miles of video tape. He advises Love “Don’t mistake coaching football--teaching young people, I’m talking about—for all the [BLEEP] you’re in for this week.”
To help his readers, Majors has added nine Discussion Questions at the end of his novel. These are wonderful:
#2. This book has no recipes or long descriptions of meals. Did the absence of these reader favorites make you think of books that did include lots of food descriptions? What is your favorite Italian recipe?
3. Reveal an intimate detail about yourself to the group, one you’ve never told anyone before.
5. Talk about yourself for awhile and what you like and don’t like.
9. Life is difficult. Why do you think that is?