Football and great literature are not commonly mentioned in the same sentence.
Great football movies from books, yes. Think “The Blind Side,” “North Dallas Forty,” or “Friday Night Lights.” But, what about the football novel as the all time best postmodern, decontructionist literature?
Enter Don DeLillo, author of the 1972 novel “End Zone,” soon to be released as a movie starring Josh Hartnett in the lead role of Gary. DeLillo is the son of Italian immigrants, so it is not surprising that he chose the most American of sports on which to base a broader political statement done in lighthearted farce.
End Zone takes place at Logos College in West Texas during the first year of integration there. The book’s narrator, anti-hero football player Gary Harkness, is obsessed with nuclear war. His roommate, Anatole Bloomberg, gets pumped up by his belief that life, happiness and fulfillment come from destructiveness. The team’s first black student, Taft Robinson, a transfer from Columbia University, is intrigued by Nazi war atrocities. In short, all of the players on the Logos team mediate their violent tendencies through the socially acceptable venue of football.
But language is really more at play here than football. DeLillo’s amazing way with words brings us into the summer of 1972, when football was simple, but life was becoming more and more complicated with desegregation, nuclear war, and marijuana.
The jargon used by the coaches (put some hurt on them, hit somebody), war terminology (thermal hurricane, kill-ratio), and the players’ simplistic language (shake it off, pulled hamstring) are used to explore the existential meaning of life and football. This is not just a football story; this is literature.
DeLillo’s 2007 novel “Falling Man” dealt with the psychological aftermath of the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers. His next novel, “Point Omega” is due out in February.