A Few Yards Shy of Heaven
by Kevin Giffen

"I found myself in the same uncomfortable spot I had been absorbed in only several minutes earlier; alone and in a foreign territory without direction."

Melvin Wright is a reporter who feels that his talents would be better used writing from somewhere and about something more prestigious than the closing of local industries in the economically and socially depressed town of South Heaven, Ohio. Circumstances work against him, however, and he is obliged to spend months there. Cynical, embittered, and suspicious of the people and events that have dictated his plight, he turns his attention to the town's passion for the Rangers, the local football team whose success during the season helps to relieve the townspeople of their worries. Wright eventually becomes a participant in the healing that appears to originate from the football triumphs, to appreciate on some level the bonds that small towns and hometowns build.

Somewhat reminiscent of Shoeless Joe, which elevated baseball to spiritual realms in which relationships were mended and conflicts resolved, the book at first approaches its subject from the mundane: a job to be done, a bad economy, problems to be solved. How does a local football team help people deal with the realities of work amid loss, even crises? Does a sport reflect what is positive about the human spirit and, in that way, work its positive force? Wright's metamorphosis integrates many parts of Western Ohio's history and the sense of commitment and pride that are obvious—even as he feels that he embellishes events in "Heaven"—at first to make his time there tolerable, then to come to a deeper understanding of the value of a community.

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