Thursday, May 31, 2012

Alice's Review: After Friday Night Lights

Summary:  Nearly twenty-five years ago, H. G. (Buzz) Bissinger, then a young reporter for the “Philadelphia Inquirer,” moved to Odessa, Texas, family in tow, to follow the fortunes of the 1988 Permian High School football team. He hoped to write a celebratory treatment of a team and a town. The result: “Friday Night Lights,” a bestselling American classic that spawned the popular film as well as the series, considered by many one of the best on television.

The original book’s most compelling character was James “Boobie” Miles, and his experience in Odessa was, as Bissinger puts it in his daringly honest sequel “After Friday Night Lights,” “a symbol of everything that was wrong with high school football.” The complex friendship between subject and author has deepened over the years, and is, Bissinger writes, “the most lasting legacy of “Friday Night Lights,” or at least the legacy I care about most.”

Heading into the 1988 season, Miles looked like a star-in-the-making, a sure bet to ascend to college and the NFL. Abandoned by his mother, beaten by his dad, he had scraped through a rough upbringing, but it appeared that success on the field was soon to redeem his pain. Then, in a meaningless preseason scrimmage, Boobie blew out his knee. By midseason he was off the team, no longer needed by his coaches, who had found themselves a new running back.

“After Friday Night Lights”—an original 45-page story written to be read in a single sitting—follows Boobie through the dark years he suffered after his injury right up to a present that is imbued with a new kind of hope. It is the indelible portrait of the oddest of enduring friendships: that of a writer and his subject, a “neurotic Jew” and a West Texas oil-field worker, a white man raised in privilege and a black man brought up in poverty and violence, and a father and his “fourth son.” Their story encompasses the realities of race and class in America. And reveals with heartbreaking accuracy how men rise again after their dreams are broken.

Review:  Years ago, I fell head over heels in love with a little television show called Friday Night Lights. I didn't see the movie, I didn't know it was based on a book by the same name. I had no idea who H.G. "Buzz" Bissinger was. Texas was the state where the classic television show Dallas took place. Texas was where my cousin Carla lived with her family in a nice Houston suburb. Texas was where the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders (in their fabulous hot pants and white boots) performed. I didn't know a West Texas existed. I didn't know football there was such a big deal (and that’s putting it mildly). Man, I had a lot to learn.

Because of my love for TV show, I picked up the book Friday Night Lights. What I discovered was a town in West Texas called Odessa where racism still ran rabid and football was god. (I still haven't watched the movie. Truth be told, Billy Bob Thorton creeps me out.) Odessa is town similar to Dillon but more raw, more cunning and dangerous. After I finished reading the book, I realized that I would have done a disservice not only to Mr. Bissinger but to James “Boobie” Miles as well.

I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to get with this short. I didn’t read the preview, I saw two things that made it a must read for me – the title and the author. I am delighted that Buzz decided to revisit Boobie's story. I loved how brutally honest Buzz was about their relationship. I am pleased he was able to admit his flaws in the first book, admit that his portrayal of certain people made them into heroes when they were anything but. Above all, I am happy that he has maintained his relationship with Boobie. He never gave up on him, helped him when he could and to steal a line from the book, all he got back was Boobie’s friendship. And that was enough for him.

If you are a fan of the show, movie, or book, After Friday Night Lights is an incredible read that will touch your heart, inspire change in thoughts and feelings. You will root for the underdog and those who defend them. Like Buzz, I am rooting for Boobie too. I hope that this is his turn around. Hopefully it's his time to shine in a way that has nothing to do with football and everything to do with the strong, giving man he is.

Final Take: 5/5

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