Thursday , April 11 2024
A look at two similarly themed sports novels set in the high school milieu.

Book Review: ‘Friday Night Lights’ by H.G. Bissinger and ‘Dare Me’ by Megan Abbott

Dare-Me-mabbott Friday Night Lights: A Town, A Team, And A Dream (2004) by H.G. Bissinger and Dare Me (2012) by Megan Abbott are similarly themed books, revolving around the professional sports milieu and the enthusiasts associated with it, both sharing a distinctively American thrill connected to the High School experience. While Dare Me establishes the more arresting plot and scenarios, Friday Night Lights is mostly based on true events and real characters (specifically about the Permian High School Panthers football team from Odessa, in the 1988 season).

Dare Me relocates the teen angst motif onto a squad of cheerleaders, presenting two central protagonists: Beth Cassidy (the captain and ‘top girl’) and her ‘fidus Achates’/best friend Addy Hanlon. Megan Abbott develops a very dark portrait of female friendship (loosely inspired by the 1988′s cult classic Heathers) and how their adolescent bonds will be tested and strained by a fiercely competitive environment. To complicate matters, Colette French becomes the new High School Coach in charge of the squad, soon exerting crippling pressure over the cheerleaders in order to transform them into adroit warriors. Beth is dethroned off her leadership by Colette and left alone to her own vengeful devices, whilst Addy ascends to the category of Coach’s protegeé.

tumblr_mpo8xlojzI1rq6eubo1_500On the other hand, Friday Night Lights examines the simple lives of Odessa’s citizens, focusing on the growth of local businesses and leisure spots in the area. This is a more elemental, testosterone-fueled territory, where authoritative male figures are invariably encircled by obsessive football fans and blind worshippers of the most prominent players. Following a similar pattern to End Zone (2011) by Don DeLillo, Bissinger’s chronicle is a character study and exploration of ‘fandom as pathology’ (according to media scholar Joli Jensen), culminating with the whole town exhibiting every chronic symptom and the townsfolk feeling a surge of atavistic eroticism linked to their team’s victory. In the midst of this suffocating Texan atmosphere surrounding Dillon (a fictitious small town based on boom-bust Odessa), filled with religious fervor around the Friday Night’s game, an oddly distant Coach appears — played by Billy Bob Thornton in the 2004′s film version directed by Peter Berg and more iconically by Kyle Chandler in the FNL TV show. Connie Britton played the Coach’s dutiful wife in both big & small screen versions.

Bissinger’s recollection of memoirs is highly evocative, as well as a cautionary documentary of the intolerant attitudes within secluded communities, exposing a critical envisioning of the limiting scope from obsolete American dreams reliant on a rotary system of injured drop-outs and failed star players:  in Odessa, “they only have two things: football and oil, and there ain’t no more oil.” Kyle Chandler as Eric Taylor reflects on our collective yearning for fair play and honor, asserting his moral superiority in an unequivocally earnest fashion and creating a hearty image of genuine masculinity. A startling progression (if logical) by a prodigious performer who previously had played a baseball hero on the Homefront TV show (1991–1993), Kyle Chandler won an Emmy in 2011 for one of the most honest on-screen portrayals:  a stern Coach whose system of values brings our impulses of nobility to light.

On the contrary, in Dare Me, the men introduced in the story are mere pawns whose only function is to trigger female reactions or serve as a diffuse patriarchal background. Colette French represents the foreign taboo intruding on the clique of typically American ‘chiclet-toothed aloof goddesses’, using her sophisticated disingenuousness to seduce Addy and the rest of cheerleaders who fall prey inescapably to Colette’s Amazonian magnetism. It’s suggested throughout a string of personal incidents that the primal reference for a teenage girl is another woman whom the young admirer perceives as superior, so that indefinite attraction toward her heroine (whether platonic or sexual) will help shape up her ideals and provoke life-changing decisions: “Coach gave it all to us. We never had it before her. So can you blame me for wanting to keep it? To fight for it, to the end? She was the one who showed me all the dark wonders of the life I’d only seen flickering from the corner of my eye. Did I ever feel anything at all until she showed me what feeling meant?,” Addy Hanlon anticipates in the novel’s beginning.

The way Abbott contrasts Beth’s resilient exhaustion against Coach French’s nascent madness is sheer mastery, highlighting a crisis of the feminine identity symbolized in the rupture from the toxic team-mates that were once proclaimed as role models. Dare Me signals the trappings of idol-worshipping, covering thorny issues like mental projection or addiction, and could stand for a sort of intellectual recension of Friday Night Lights. At one point, Natalie Portman was rumored to be in talks to play the icy Coach French, although a film version of Dare Me is still in the air and possibly another actress would be optioned for the lead character. Someone like Rooney Mara or Amy Adams would be perfect for such a demanding role.

About Elena Gonzalvo

I'm Elena Gonzalvo, a Spanish/French blogger and film/book critic. My favourite genre is Film Noir. My blogsite is Weirdland:

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