October 5, 2001
It had to happen sooner or later, I suppose.
Each generation tends to produce at least one or two good coming-of-age novels. The better ones reflect their particular social history, and also repeat some eternal verities.
For the first phase of Boomers, those born in the first five years or so after World War II, Flatbellies nicely fills that niche. (Sleeping Bear Press, $22.95 SRP.)
Although the adventures of an Oklahoma high school golf team serve as the framing device, the book’s actual themes go far beyond the basic sports story.
Alan Hollingsworth, an Oklahoma surgeon, wrote this first-time novel, and was born in 1949. For those of us with siblings that age, it’s not hard to figure out that the story may be a lightly fictionalized memoir.
The story centers around Kyle “Chipper” DeHart, a doctor’s son, growing up in the little town of El Viento, Oklahoma. His best friends are all members of the school golf team, playing all summer long on a dusty little 9-hole country club.
Chipper is the No. 4 golfer on the team, but is otherwise recognized as a real leader among the local teens. Just the same, DeHart has some lessons to learn about duty, tolerance, class differences, and the fact that not all wisdom is gained at school.
The team has a simple goal. Take two strokes per man off their scoring averages, and they’ll have a chance to win the state championship. With the help of an old club member with his own mysterious past, the group stumbles and lurches along, developing their skills, camaraderie, and sense of teamwork.
On the other hand, there are some obstacles to overcome.
Chipper’s best friend Jay is in deep lust with his girlfriend, Kelly. DeHart is concerned that the distractions of love may be too much for the team’s No. 1 golfer. Kelly’s friend Amy is not only sweet on Chipper, but may also be a better golfer, much to his confusion.
Peachy Waterman’s golf technique is a horrifying combination of swing tips and mechanical contortions that sometimes works for the perennial No. 5 golfer. Waterman’s father has no obvious means of income, and there’s no sign of Peach’s mother. That might explain the false confidence that dominates Peach’s approach to life.
L. K. Taylor owns a booming drive and a deep sense of shame about his family. Chipper depends on L.K. for help with the inevitable hazing ritual that all new lettermen must undergo, and learns not to lean too hard on his assumptions.
Buster Nelson’s local reputation as a killer boxer adds to the sense of menace that his temper brings forth on the golf course. It also impedes the development of deeper friendships with the rest of the team. On the other hand, his blossoming romance with a cute girl has his buddies deeply intrigued.
As the story unfolds, Hollingsworth touches upon some fond and deep memories about life in the mid-1960s in Middle America.
The music of the era plays a critical role, from the Platters to the Beach Boys. Owning (or driving) the right kind of car, seeing and being seen at the local hang-out, and wearing the true badges of honor such as varsity letter jackets are all properly attended to throughout the story.
Hollingsworth’s prose also rings true as he describes the teenagers’ first faltering steps towards love and romance.
The book’s not completely serious, thankfully. Some of the boys’ escapades made me laugh out loud, especially during the climactic scenes of the state championship in their senior year.
There’s much else to enjoy in this engaging new novel. I could visualize the characters, scenes, and locations as I read it. The overall plot line may have been a bit predictable, but that didn’t take away any of the pleasure of reliving that era.
Don’t just take my word for it. The October 2 edition of The Washington Times named Flatbellies as one of the top ten golf books of all time.
The nor’easter on October 1 knocked out the second annual Rehoboth Beach Invitational college golf tournament. The constant rain and high water closed the Kings Creek Country Club course. There’s some hope that it can be rescheduled for the spring.