Phil Hutcheon loves the world of college football, the subject of his new and very funny book. Desperation Passes is set in an obscure Central Valley college town, where its heroes, longtime friends, Arthur Allenby and Malcolm Wade, are serving on a search committee to find a new coach for the college football team. Allenby is African-American, an alum of the fictional college, a former star athlete, and a successful entrepreneur. Wade is a teacher at the college and a student advisor, though not a terribly successful one.
The book is heavy in dialogue, much of it snarky and sarcastic:
Slate invited us to watch practice this afternoon. You up for it?
Only if we get to stand in the rain for a couple of hours.
Wuss. Don’t ever join the Army.
I may have to Looks like its either that or go back to work for Gordon Brooks. Hunting for al Qaeda in the Hindu Kush sounds like a pretty good deal by comparison.
Desperation Passes tackles a lot of subjects: The quest for a college bowl game victory, the occasional ineptitude of academic institutions, a couple of academically challenged football players who rarely make it to their classes, Allenbys and Wades friendship, their romantic misfortunes, a sex scandal and careers stalled by bureaucracy.
You dont have to love football to get swept up in Desperation Passes. You probably dont even have to like football, because youll quickly come to care deeply about Allenby and Wade, find yourself charmed by their clever repartee, and cheering them both on to come out on top. Some of the most compelling passages are about Wade trying to navigate his way through work: With a shudder at the thought of whom he was allowing to direct the progress of his life, Wade forced his feet once again onto the dolorous path to the English Department, where hed find out how much further he was willing to debase himself in order to secure the prospect of future employment.
Hutcheon is a long-time academic himself. He holds a PhD from Rice University and teaches in the English department at Delta College in Stockton, CA. He has long mentored minority student athletes.
His first novel, Nobody Roots For Goliath, was published in 2007, when he was 57. He says he got 40 rejection letters before a publisher picked it up. Hutcheon is now at work on his third novel, Where Triples Go to Die, about the diminishing role of African Americans in baseball.