National Contender is the story of Travis Banks, a man who approaches life with a must-win attitude. Nothing will discourage him or put him down, particularly if it involves a physical challenge. As he explains, “competitiveness was bred into me.” Travis’ winning, boxer-like stance towards life appears to come:
1) from imitating his father’s work ethic and his mother’s caring attitude for others
2) from his grandfather’s advice: “Boy, never hang your hat higher than you can reach"
3) from his belief that God spoke to him in a dream: “I will never quit on you"; like a tall bamboo plant, “You will rise high.”
Although Travis claims early in National Contender that gambling was only a hobby, as his story develops, gaming seems to be a central part of his life. In fact, the belief that he could lay a bet and win is precisely what allowed him to travel from Florida through Louisiana and back to Las Vegas.
While visiting relatives left homeless and helpless because of Katrina, Travis experienced the wholesomeness of the human condition. He talks of witnessing neighbors helping one another with repairs as best as they could. People shared their provisions and emptied their food stores as if a block party was going on.
But the lack of quick aid by the U.S. government obviously bothered him. Later in National Contender, Travis speaks of the shame cast on America by politicians who do not address problems such as disaster relief, poverty, and joblessness, while these same politicians sit back in comfortable, stylish, well furnished homes in non-blighted neighborhoods.
The driving force for most of the novel is the result of Travis’ reaction at a casino. When he returns from a men’s room, he notices two large men hitting on Akanke, his intimate girlfriend, who is cornered by the two men. He hears one man say, “What’s wrong bitch, you too good to take a drink from me?”
When this man grabs Akanke’s arm, Travis steps in at once. What appears to be a one sided fight breaks out. Within a few minutes, Travis decks both men. He asks onlookers to get them medical attention, then he and Akanke exit the casino.
Because one of the men leveled by Travis happened to be the current world boxing champion, word quickly spreads. The media grabs this story and Travis’ life is forever changed. Talk shows host him. Who is this powerful character? How did he best not only the world champ but also his buffed companion?
Of course Travis speaks out. Because he is such a well meaning hero, talk show hosts ask his opinion on all sorts of current problems. His biggest complaint is that government bureaucrats live like millionaires, misusing taxpayer’s money as if it is their own personal font of wealth. He feels these officials have little concern for the common man, many of whom must eke out a jobless existence while desperately trying to keep their families together.