Morrissey has always been able to summon up compelling character images with few words, from Hector the protagonist in ‘First Of The Gang To Die’ and going way back to ‘This Charming Man’.
This is a short novel about an American college relay team, set in the 1970s and in its 118 pages the four young men….‘Ezra, Nails, Harri, Justy. You’d dig hard and deep to excavate four names quite so unusual’ (a bit like the Brighton Rock gang ‘Dallow, Spicer, Pinkie, Cubitt’ name-checked in pivotal Morrissey song ‘Now My Heart Is Full’?)…. take part in a quickly moving plot that soon diverges from conventional adventures on the running track. Other characters flit in and out, sometimes with detailed musings on the ills of society and steer the tale to an unexpected conclusion.
It is an engrossing read, the structure is loose and playful ( ‘Electrons from you need electrons from me to become electrons’) with abundant wordplay (‘her Elizabeth Taylor non-taming of the shrewd’), alliteration and sudden leaps of content into unexpected rants about animal rights, war(‘every government needs a war to balance the books’), famous political figures and the nature of love (‘But, look, you are my heart. You save me every day from…absolute boredom’) and ageing.
This compact Penguin edition novel has a lustrous retro orange cover with a 1962 photo of a relay runner (who some have mistaken for the author?!) and with its hints of influence from Catcher In The Rye to A Clockwork Orange it did not disappoint.