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In the small town of Dilthon, Wyoming, high-school football is religion and the local football coach, Brad Porter, is god. But Coach Porter is a cruel and unforgiving deity, so fiercely determined to win that it frightens an aging uncle and aunt who were once his surrogate parents. After the death of his aunt snaps the last restraints, Coach Porter drives his vulnerable place kicker, Alasdair Pittman, to suicide. Yet when his recklessness costs his own son his life, Coach Porter plunges into turmoil that no gridiron victory can resolve. Groping his way towards a new life, Coach Porter turns to his war-scarred uncle for guidance—and redirects his energies to a sport devoid of glamour: cross-country running. However, neither Coach Porter nor anyone else in Dilthon ever expected the new sport to attract Alasdair Pittman’s brother, Anson, an athlete needing help with far more than his stride. Who will win in this unexpected new contest? And what will winning mean?
I scanned the parking lot before the service, looking for Brad’s red Pontiac. I did not see it. Nor did I see his intense face when I repeatedly looked back over the pews during the service. Given the small-town craving for a bit of drama, I’m sure that other necks were likewise craning for a backward glance, other eyes were likewise stealing furtive glances over the congregation, looking for a countenance sure to add tension—and interest—to the occasion. But I had not really expected to find my nephew among the hundred or so mourners in Dilthon’s Presbyterian chapel that day.
Still, I had hoped. Hoped that somehow Brad could spare an hour to grieve the death of one who had tried so hard to live up to his high expectations. Someone who would have given anything to please him. But having fallen short of the mark Brad had set for him in life, Alasdair Pittman would merit none of Brad’s concern in death. In any case, Brad did not do funerals. The dead held little interest for him. And in this case, no interest whatever.
Brad had better things to do than lament the suicide of a loser. His time would be better spent recruiting and coaching a new and better place kicker for next year’s team, a kicker who wouldn’t fold under the pressure of the biggest game of the year. A winner.
Mourning for a loser like Alasdair was left to other losers—like me and the nine or ten other teachers and the thirty-odd students that Paul Hales, the principal, had been able to conscript. A stretch, really, to say that we were all there to mourn Alasdair. Some, as I have suggested, had come hoping for some scandal, or at least some excitement, to relieve their boredom. But most were there out of obligation. Half of the teachers and most of the students had barely even known him. Most of the faculty came not out of any sincere sense of loss, but out of a sense of professional duty. It was like grading tests or chaperoning dances—teachers did this kind of thing.
Academic duty had also summoned the school’s a cappella choir, on hand to sing in memory of a boy most of the choir members had avoided during his years at Dilthon High. Duty had also brought the student council—at least the female members of the council. Popular girls who had never felt it their duty to so much as exchange greetings with Alasdair alive felt obligated to pay their respects to him dead. The boys on the council did not come at all.
Two exceptions: the student-body president, Stephen Camp, was there, as was the junior class president, Matt Olson. The only male members of the council in attendance, they acted out their duty with evident discomfort, awkwardly sidling their way into the pews at the back of the chapel, clearly embarrassed to be there. Stephen and Matt were also the only football players there. And the football team had learned only too well from their coach to put losing—and losers—behind them.
“Powerfully written with in-depth characterization, Winning is itself a winner. Christensen’s philosophical style will appeal to all readers, along with prose delivered with a luring cadence that at times comes very close to poetic. A poignant, thought-provoking story providing a galvanizing look at family dynamics, inner struggles, and the impetus behind certain driven behaviors, this book will hold the reader’s attention until the end.”
--Christy Tillery French, Midwest Book Review
“his moody book will appeal to fans of Jodi Picoult or Nicholas Sparks. . . . [A] powerful story that will haunt you."
Amanda Kilgore, Independent Book Reviewer
“. . . part war story, part family saga, part coming-of-age drama . . . . Christensen's meditation on love and loss, hope and despair, and winning losing is both sensitive and insightful. The 'softening' of the hero may remind sports-fiction fans of Mark Harris's classic 'Bang the Drum Slowly.'" - Reviewed by Mary Frances Wilkens for American Library Association Booklist
Book Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press
No. of Pages: 214
Paper Weight (lb): 9.0
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