Black Overalls
by Tom Donaldson

"When we took the field, we could hear some laughing and heckling about our jerseys. Nobody is laughing now."

For the uninitiated, in Texas, where this story takes place, football—particularly high school football—is just as much a religion as Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism. In fact, it’s probably more popular than all of those combined. While H. G. Bissinger’s Friday Night Lights covered similar terrain via non-fiction, Donaldson uses the novel’s inherent ability to add intimacy, drama, conflict, and heroism to definitely up the emotional ante.

The plot is relatively straightforward. A young sports writer learns from his Hall Of Fame hero of a totally unknown player the hero considered to be the best of all time. The writer sets out to pluck the mystery man from obscurity and tell his story. His search takes him to a tiny town in West Texas where he corners a high school principal who’s more than happy to recount all that he knows. Thus unfolds the tale of a young man hampered by personal tragedy, a school, a town, a population devastated by catastrophe, and a community resurrection brought about by the love of football.

Donaldson is a consummate storyteller. He makes his tale suspenseful while simultaneously capturing the strength, honesty, and character of the individuals who make up his cast. Minor editing deficiencies don’t mar his formidable knowledge of football or his ability to excite with intense play-by-play action, but it’s his sincere take on pride, resolve, and collective will that you’ll remember far longer than whether the big game was won or lost. Hemingway reminds us, “All good books have one thing in common—they are truer than if they had actually happened.” Donaldson’s is a good book.

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