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- Publié sur Amazon.com
Not a lot of books had made me cry and in my extensive non-fiction book reading, I've read some horrific things. But sometimes the event of something horrible like rejection, failure and even death, is not enough to stir an emotional response. Sometimes the character that experiences one or many of those things is, even with full textual explanation, too far removed from the reader to be appreciated on a human level. In a biography of, say, George Clooney, can you really, actually, feel connected to a man so far removed from you?
The Last Shot manages to not only provide a deep connection with its `characters' but makes me realize how, frankly, easy my life is. I'm not one to flaunt the luxuries of my life but I realize how lucky I am. . .and I suppose that is half of Mr. Darcy's point in writing The Last Shot. The book takes place in Coney Island and centers around four talented but troubled basketball players that attend Lincoln high school. Three of them, Tchaka, Russell, and Corey, are entering their senior year and are beginning the stressful process of college recruitment. The fourth, a young, wiley freshman named Stephon Marbury, is making a name for himself. . .and awaits four long years of trials and tribulations and the ability to finally make it to the next level (something his three brothers almost did, but couldn't).
Frey manages to stay as neutral as possible during his eight months with the players but, as he discovers first hand and brilliantly displays with his writing, we start to get connected to the characters (though the book takes place in the early 90s and some of the fates, like Marbury's, are obviously well known by now) and start to feel both trapped by their environment and equally seduced/repulsed by the NCAA and the college system. Much like the film Hoop Dreams, which I will be reviewing later on the site, the point of the project was initially basketball. . .but turned into the soul and essence of humanity. In the end, basketball becomes as trivial as it should be: a sport that is a joy to play and watch but not the end all be all of existence. However, in Coney Island, and for many families, changing that distinction isn't an option.
Frey is an invested observer and isn't approaching the work as if it is a objective report. He is there in the harsh, dangerous settings and is playing narrator/overlord to the men and, for the most part, letting them play their part without his input. But what is so unique about the book is that, at some point, Frey begins to realize he is, just by being around second-hand, starting to play a part in the boy's lives and effecting them in ways that wouldn't be if he wasn't around. And by book's end, he starts to put aside journalistic integrity and actually reach out to lead the player's down a path that will be beneficial to them. This isn't so his book can create drama. . .but so he can save the people he (and the readers) have learned to love.
The most fascinating case is Russell. The most talented of the senior players (Marbury is the best overall player of any of the boys), Russell is a few brain cells away from crazy. He is immensely intelligent and has a work ethic matched by hardly anyone in his zip code. Yet he dips into periods of odd social behavior that has, in its most trivial moments, led him to act odd in public and, at its most serious, caused him to threaten suicide. He is fragile and one suspects in any other neighborhood, the kinks could be worked out. But Russell is a ticking time bomb and as his college recruitment days go up and down, so do his moods. We, as invested observers, and the author can't help but try to reach out. . .and by the time you reach the `12 Years Later' afterward, though I won't tell you what happens, you're heart will be literally ripped out of your chest and stomped on with abandon. Like I said, few books have made me cry. . .I literally had to put the book down in mid-sentence and had to look up at the sky and ask `why'. It was that moving. . .and sad.
Tchaka, whose height, and not his inferior skills in comparison to Russell, seemingly grant him the dream the other players work so hard for (with little results) and this adds to both Russell's depression and the oppressive claustrophobia that starts to infect the book. Coney Island always feels dangerous due to the drugs and gangbangers but as the stakes get higher, even for the author, the surroundings begin to get grim. At one point, you feel like the author and the player's lives are in danger and the corners of every block get more dangerous. And as the author starts to get excluded from access due to jealousies and fear, the author, and therefore the reader, start to get placed in the dark. . .and it is uncomfortable. I started getting a sick feeling in my stomach towards the end. . .like something bad was going to happen.
The book is captivating from beginning to end but for different reasons. The author's (and player's) innocence is beautiful to watch in the beginning. It's all about the game and how great it is. But then things turn darker and darker as basketball becomes a twisted cousin of the joy it is perceived as in the beginning and as we watch the boys become men and experience hardships beyond anything I can imagine, we also see an author go through immense changes as well. Frey probably represents the common white middle-class man like myself so his initial joy at doing this project leads to shocking revelations and a darkness often unseen when placed behind the televised games and `glory'. If you want a book that will shake you a bit. . .read this. I highly recommend it but prepared to be sad.