Ben Fountain is the author of, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk. He has received the PEN/Hemingway Award, the Barnes & Noble Discover Award for Fiction, a Whiting Writers Award, an O. Henry Prize, two Pushcart Prizes, and two Texas Institute of Letters Short Story Awards, among other honors and awards. His fiction has been published in Harper's, The Paris Review, Zoetrope: All-Story, and Stories from the South: The Year's Best, and his nonfiction has appeared in The New York Times and The New York Times Sunday Magazine, among other publications. His reportage on post-earthquake Haiti was nationally broadcasted on the radio show This American Life. He and his family live in Dallas, Texas.
Welcome to “the Muck,” aka Belle Glade, Florida, an impoverished farming town of 17,000 surrounded by seas of sugar cane and vegetable fields. A mere forty-minute drive from the tony streets of Palm Beach, Belle Glade is the home of Glades Central, a 99% minority high school that’s the poorest in the state. Pretty much every ill that you can imagine afflicting children in 21st-century America, Glades Central’s got it: gang violence, drugs, murder, teen pregnancy, broken homes; that the school has historically abysmal test scores and dropout rates should surprise no one, and yet Glades also happens to boast one of the highest-ranked football programs in the country, one that sends an average of eight players a year to NCAA Division I programs, and has had over thirty players reach the NFL in recent years.
“This place, they got speed like nowhere else,” says a college coach in town on a recruiting trip. What Katherine Boo did for Mumbai in Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Bryan Mealer does right here in our own backyard with Muck City. Mealer dives headfirst into the history and culture of the muck to show not only why it’s one of the greatest concentrations of raw football talent in the world, but also what the sport does to the school, the community, the families, and most of all to the children who actually go to Glades Central and play the games.
Because for all their mind-boggling physical talent, that’s what they are, children searching for a way out of a town that offers too little opportunity, too much temptation, and the daily prospect of violent death. “I’m looking to get as far away from this place as possible,” says one player. “My dad lived until he was twenty-one years old. If I stick around here, I probably won’t even make it that long.”
For generations, football has been seen as the ticket out, and over the course of the 2010 season, Mealer gives us intimate portraits of a rich cross-section of students, parents, and coaches. We get to know “the beautiful freak” Kelvin Benjamin, a blue-chip prospect with ungodly natural talent; Jamarious Rowley, the undersized quarterback who goes the entire season with a torn ligament in his shoulder, playing through concussions, self-doubt, and the vicious criticism of the town; and head coach Jessie Hester, ex-Glade Central star and NFL veteran who says “I’m not here to win championships, I’m here to win kids.” But what about the 96% of the student body that doesn’t play football? Mealer explores this side of it too in the story of Jonteria Williams, a girl of superhuman drive whose day starts at 6 a.m. and doesn’t end until midnight, all in the service of realizing her dream of becoming a doctor.
Even for the supremely talented and lucky players who “make it” thanks to a football scholarship, one wonders how far they’ll get. Football seems a slender reed on which to pin one’s hopes, and Mealer’s narrative is filled with players who washed out because of injury, ego, bad luck, immaturity, or simply having more obstacles in their way than any human could reasonably hope to overcome. Once, while regarding a classroom full of elementary school students, James Baldwin wondered, “What will become of all this beauty?” Reading Muck City, you marvel at the beauty, and despair over its prospects in an unnaturally harsh world.
Knowing some of the NFL players mentioned so prominently would enhance a reader's enjoyment of the book, but the book does not demand that for the reader to understand what is... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Carol K. Askin
The writing is great. It's fun reading about people I know. You see, I grew up in Belle Glade, as did my father, mother, and grandfather. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Patrick Altman
As a couple other reviewers said, (i) the book jumps around quite a bit, seemingly haphazardly, and (ii) it would have been better as a feature Sports Illustrated type article than... Read morePublished 6 months ago by x
Doesn't really break any new groud. It's interesting, but not as good as I had been led to believe it was.Published 7 months ago by Maineroad
Big Oil, Big Finance, and in Belle Glade, Florida, Big Sugar. Not only did Big Sugar bring the Everglades to the brink of extinction, it is also responsible for creating cities... Read morePublished 9 months ago by bonnie_blu
A great story. If you love Florida football you need to read this and see how some of the stars of the NFL started out. Read morePublished 11 months ago by Bill Sunshine
There are not many opportunities for young men in Belle Glade, Florida and this book explains why. It is well written and the frustrations are clearly drawn. Read morePublished 14 months ago by L. Page