Sunday, January 30, 2011

Blind Your Ponies by Stanley Gordon West

If Hoosiers and Breaking Away are among your favorite movies and if you cheer for the underdog in the NCAA tournament, Blind Your Ponies is for you.  Between 2001 and 2010, Stanley Gordon West hand sold over 40,000 copies of this formerly self-published 539-page novel out of the trunk of his car. Last year Chuck Adams, the editor of Water for Elephants, read it and grabbed the novel for Algonquin Books and it’s been flying off bookstore shelves all across America.

Reading this story is the closest thing to the Indiana high school basketball games I grew up seeing when entire towns shut down for tournament games. This tale, however, is set in the tiny town of Willow Creek, Montana where the boy’s basketball team hasn’t won a game in five years. Sam Pickett, the coach, has quit and his escape to this small town isn’t working out as he’d expected. When Peter, a true point guard, moves in with his irascible grandmother during his parents’ divorce and Olaf, a 6’11” Norwegian exchange student arrives, things begin to change. Sam returns to coach and lead these boys in a quest that he reminds them resembles that of Don Quixote. The team begins winning and the entire community begins to believe that they could just possibly win the state tournament. Once the townspeople begin believing in the team they also start believing in themselves.

This is the book to put in the hands of reluctant readers particularly teenage or young adult males that love basketball but think they don’t love reading. They’ll thrill at the detailed descriptions of passes, pick and rolls, and screens. Non-basketball fans may find the games too technical but they’ll still enjoy the redemptive story.  

I imagine that it’d be almost impossible for an editor to tell a 78-year-old author who’s sold thousands of books without any help that the novel would be better if he’d tone down his overly florid descriptions and eliminate some of the contrived metaphors.  But that’s just quibbling.  The writing isn’t perfect and the book could be more concise but this guy isn’t Hemingway, he’s an old-fashioned storyteller. The humor is contagious and the characters seem like family in a book that will get story lovers through a long cold winter.

Summing it up: This old-fashioned yarn will appeal to basketball fans and those who love triumphant stories with quirky characters.

Rating: 4 stars   
Category: Fiction, Grandma's Pot Roast

Publication date: January 18, 2011

What Others are Saying:
Booklist calls it “A fervent feel-good fairy tale of a novel.”
Publishers Weekly notes it as “An uplifting story about the triumph of human decency.”

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