Student Picks: Bachelder and Henderson


Phil Lemos-- Aficionados of male ritual, 2 ½-star hotels and mangled legs will love Chris Bachelder’s The Throwback Special. It’s the story of 22 men who converge at a hotel annually to re-enact the infamous play from a 1980s Monday Night Football game in which Lawrence Taylor gruesomely shattered Joe Theismann’s leg on national television, ending his career. A lottery system, aided by a complex addendum of rules – you can’t be LT more than once in an eight-year span, the last person selected is Theismann, among others – determines which character portrays which player. 

Casting a virtual makeshift football team in such a short (213 pages) novel yields confusing results, both in mid-life crises and in name — there’s a Chad, a Charles and a Carl; a Randy and an Andy; a Dennis and a Derek.  

But the men, in a way, are one singular character, whose personal strife is their common bond outside of football. These men suffer from fully involved mid-life crises, whether it be failing careers, questioning of their own manhood, crumbling marriages, or a combination thereof, and they manifest themselves in the most bizarre and random situations, such as during the hotel’s continental breakfast and “stage fright” during trips to the bathroom stall.


Shawna-Lee Perrin-- Details reveal a writer’s willingness to linger in a scene and highlight the parts with exceptional emotional weight. Smith Henderson’s Fourth of July Creek is stuffed with multi-faceted characters and weighty topics, but it’s his attention to detail that makes certain scenes exceptionally haunting.

On Pete the narrator’s cabin: “...a front room with his bed, a leather chair, a kerosene lamp and an electric lantern, two shelves of books, and a bureau... a hatch in the floor led into a root cellar where he kept his milk, beer, and vegetables.” That beer is one of three things he keeps in the cellar is a subtle hint at Pete’s goals of living a simple, but not dour or monastic, life. 

After Pete’s father dies, the relics of his last day reveal Pete’s reluctant affection, despite the complicated, distant relationship they’d had: “An odor of leather, sawdust, and lilac... A half cup of coffee where he’d left it... an unpromising game of solitaire. His father had gotten up when he saw he wouldn’t win.”

I find myself reflecting on this book when I realize I’ve rushed through writing something; it’s a priceless study in slowing way down and really looking around.