- Paperback: 224 pages
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (February 7, 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0393353788
- ISBN-13: 978-0393353785
- Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.6 x 8.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #136,699 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Throwback Special: A Novel Paperback – February 7, 2017
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“Wistful and elegantly written . . . The Throwback Special conjures the rewarding melancholy of Richard Ford’s Frank Bascombe novels” (John Williams - New York Times Book Review)
“Powerful, intelligent, and entertaining. . . . Chris Bachelder works a kind of poignant comedic magic, expertly locating and drawing out central truths about life.” (Drew Nellins Smith - Los Angeles Times Book Review)
“A gem . . . Bachelder’s ‘football’ novel is an eerie, witty work dissecting a modern-day sacrificial ritual.” (Matt Seidel - The Millions)
“The Throwback Special is 2016’s first Great Book. . . . A hilariously sorrowful rendering of American masculinity and a wise, patient examination of American culture.” (Weston Cutter - Minneapolis Star Tribune)
“A comic meditation about marriage, ritual, friendship, parenthood, aging, and unlikely obsessions, The Throwback Special is a funny, insightful, and surprisingly poignant book.” (Julie Schumacher, bestselling author of Dear Committee Members)
“Deeply compelling.” (Vox, "The 13 Best Novels of 2016")
“Bachelder reveals the magic of professional sport spectating, the silliness and profundity of traditions, and the tender illogic of friendship. . . . There is absolutely something for everyone (even the sports-averse) in this rollicking, irreverent but sweet human drama.” (Julia Jenkins - Shelf Awareness (starred review))
“[The Throwback Special] is anthropological in its study of how American males interact, drop-dead hilarious and a wistful look at the things that bind us.” (Mary Ann Gwinn - The Seattle Times)
About the Author
Chris Bachelder is the author of Bear v. Shark, U.S.!, and Abbott Awaits. His fiction and essays have appeared in McSweeney’s, The Believer, and the Paris Review. He lives with his wife and two daughters in Cincinnati, where he teaches at the University of Cincinnati.
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Top Customer Reviews
"The men had reached an age when they gained or lost significant things in relatively short periods of time, and it was not unusual for someone to show up in November having acquired or divested weight, God, alcohol, sideburns, blog, pontoon boat, jewelry, stepchildren, potency, fertility, cyst, tattoo, medical devices that clipped to the belt and beeped, or huge radio-controlled model airplanes."
I suspect this book has a niche, rather than a broad appeal (but, it falls squarely in my niche!). If spot-on social commentary, male friendships/behavior (similar to Shotgun Lovesongs), sports (you don’t have to be interested in football to enjoy this book, but it is a bonus), and darkness simmering beneath the mundane (similar to Why They Run the Way They Do) push your buttons, grab this book! If you need more action, this one probably isn’t for you.
Check out my blog, Sarah's Book Shelves, for more reviews.
Every November, a group of 22 men gather at a 2-star suburban hotel to reenact “the most shocking play in NFL history,” a 1985 play dubbed the Throwback Special during which Redskins’ Joe Theismann suffered a career-ending leg injury. The book chronicles the men’s latest weekend retreat.
With 22 characters, no one is distinct. You won’t be able to remember what distinguishes Robert from Jeff or Carl from Trent or George from Andy. But that’s okay, and it’s sort of the point. This isn’t a book about individual characters, this is about the modern male psyche—together they make up a collective male conscious bumbling through the mundanity and terror of middle age.
Amusingly, every interaction has the weight of an existential crisis, from Peter meticulously boiling a mouthguard to Nate confessing that he has a bizarre sexual obsession with the illustrated women in children’s books. When the time comes for the men to gather and pick their players, it’s more than just a simple choice, it’s a reflection of their inner selves. Bachelder presents this all with stunning psychological and philosophical insight that never feels overwrought.
It’s unclear how the men know each other or how the tradition began, but they are united in their dependence on it. They take comfort in the routine, in the certainty of the predetermined outcome—an anchor to some semblance of serenity and stability amid their ever-changing lives.
Bachelder, brilliantly, reveals to us the absurdity of his characters while treating them with genuine love, dignity and empathy. It’s the laugh-out-loud kind of humor and commentary designed to comfort those of us who are intimately familiar with pervasive melancholy, existential anxiety and consuming self-consciousness. It’s hilarious and heartbreaking all at once. I laughed with these 22 men throughout the duration of their beloved weekend, not at them.
On that night, 18 November 1985, a NJ native in my sixth year living in Washington, I tuned in to Monday Night Football expecting to root the NY Giants to victory. Instead, I found myself leaping up and punching the sky after Redskin reserve-QB Jay Schroeder (who?) had thrown a late TD pass to tight end Clint Didier, thus sealing a come-from-behind victory. In between, in the second period, force-of-nature Lawrence Taylor ended the career of Jersey Joe Theismann with a sack that shattered JT's right fibula and tibia into bitsy pieces, the famous "comminuted fracture," earning for the sequence, with its famously grisly reverse "instant-replay," eternal glory as "The Hit That No One Who Saw It Can Ever Forget."
From this Chris Bachelder builds a story of 22 men who have gathered annually on the anniversary for the ensuing 16 years (why 2001? Why not 2015, when Bachelder was writing the novel? Or 2005, on the 20th anniversary? "Why anything?" We can only guess...) to literally reenact the moment in exacting detail. In spinning his yarn out from this ridiculous premise, Bachelder accomplishes a formidable feat: he writes a short, easily accessible comic novel, populated by 22 principal characters and several entertaining ancillary ones, many of whom are memorable and each of whom seems to own a distinctive neurosis (can we casually refer to "neurosis" in 2016 without offending the neurotic? I really don't know), and at the same time fills the pages with a load of mostly unobtrusive literary bells and whistles that signify intent beyond simple amusement and toward something the brain might not fully apprehend but the heart cannot miss. Or, if you don't like metonymy, "...the cognitive circuitry may miss but the affective/emotional wires will hum with recognition."
The novel is several things simultaneously: a deconstruction - and then a reconstruction, according to strict rules - of a famous play in NFL history (in the Redskins playbook, the "throwback special"; look for George the Librarian's breakdown of what we're really looking at), the many ways very disparate pieces of complex reality might shudder themselves into participation in a singular unity, a typology of relationships between and among men and men and women, more than a few thoughts on life, the end of life, the question put to Conan by his Monggol interlocutor, "What is best in life?" and Socrates observation on the examined life and what makes a life "worth living." For at least these layers, and for what struck me as Bachelder's apt direct and indirect observations on these more-or-less existential questions, the novel crosses into "literary" territory.
Bachelder has a close observer's eye but also the collateral gift - not possessed by every keen observer - of capturing an observation in novel ways that connect immediately with the reader. "The interior of the microwave, like the interiors of all public microwaves, resembled the scene of a double homicide." "Disappointment was the freight of expectation." "All [marriage] is, he said, and he said he learned this too late, but all it is, is watching someone and having someone watch you." (Otherwise, I should add, no one will necessarily know who you are or what you do with your days. Or care.)
As other reviewers have noted, you don't have to know or even like football to enjoy The Throwback Special. But it helps. Or it may assist you across a rough patch or two in which you're trying to sort out a few of the 22 backstories Batchelder weaves into the narrative, at his own expert pace, withholding, disclosing, withholding, disclosing, forcing the reader to overcome the almost biological desire for closure (another literary "tell"). Eventually, you'll get most of the pieces you need. But you won't get it all. Mysteries will remain, and to even discuss these represents something of a spoiler. If you wish, you can look elsewhere, mostly among the one- and two-star reviews, for unresolved questions.
For me, I just ripped through the book in an evening. I'm a slow but persistent reader, and I was reading a library copy (but have since purchased several copies for Xmas gifts) due the next day, but for me this was simply a joyful trip that, as it wound to an end, became, almost incredibly, strangely moving.
I recognize it may not be for every taste, but it's a quick enough read to take a gamble on it without having to invest a tremendous amount of time and effort. A good novel often interrogates the reader, as this novel interrogated me on some very basic topics. I found the experience bracing and Chris Bachelder a superb guide through several sources of midlife existential angst.
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I read all of the finalists and they were all outstanding, but this was the standout.Read more