Finding the words
Published Thursday May 26th, 2011
In The Goon, an inarticulate hockey player gains his voice
by Charles Mandel
Here's a picaresque romp through the underside. Jerrod Edson's The Goon has plenty of brawling, bawling and, of course, drinking. Lots of drinking. Lots and lots of it. Geez, you might pass out just from reading the book.
The titular goon of Edson's novel is a retired NHL enforcer. At 58, Jack Jones lives off his reputation. A former player with the Boston Bruins, he's returned to Saint John, where he has little else to do but drink himself senseless every night. He boasts about the memoir he wants to write and yet is incapable of even beginning. Jones drinks at the same dive every day, where he longs for the waitress, Ruthie. And it is to her that he swears he will produce a book. Unable to, Jones works himself deeper into misery over his inability to string the words together that will create the book and win him the woman.
Instead, he falters. Not having bothered to read books before, he hasn't the faintest clue how to go about creating one. Yet to convince Ruthie that he's working on his, he tells her that he's reading several in order to research it the way the pros do it.
Unconvinced, she wants to know what Jones is reading. "Books, Jack had said, stumbling on his words. So many I forget the names. He knew Ruthie didn't believe him."
Suddenly his slacker life of getting pissed becomes a nightmare of pressure as a result. "What a mess he'd gotten himself in. He'd talked it up too many times not to mention it again."
One day while Jones is out hunting he runs into Roy Sweeney, a gay painter who's lost his partner. These two men - the brutish hockey player and the mourning homosexual - become unlikely and uneasy friends. After the chance encounter, Jones turns up on Sweeney's doorstep, asking him to help write his book because Sweeney worked as a teacher - never mind that he taught art.
To the mix, add Sweeney's son, Cam, who is a talented junior league hockey player, whose timidity is hampering his career, and you have a fairly swift-moving story about damaged people all trying to find their way in the world.Edson's prose is straight-up, deceptively simple in its style. Likely, it took a lot of hard work to arrive at his pared-down narrative. And it's a given that the ending will be feel-good; in these days of deep cynicism, that's almost refreshing. Yes, The Goon can be a bit choppy in its prose, but don't let that stop you from dipping into this slice of life set in our own backyard.