It’s sometimes amazing to realize how an obsession for sports can take over a life. In John L. Parker Jr.’s amiable new work, a prequel to his 1978 bestseller Once a Runner, Quenton Cassidy, teenage native of Citrus City, Florida, is so wrapped up in his athletic pursuits that the great upheavals of his era—the Cuban missile crisis, the assassination of JFK, civil rights and the arrival of the Beatles for goodness’ sake!—stick in his mind the way anything sticks to Teflon.
Torn between track and basketball, for which he’s just a bit shorter than he should be, Cassidy (as he’s called) frets over his running time, his technique, rankings, 220s, 440s and 880s. He does so even as his classmates brace themselves for the end of the world as delivered by a barrage of Russian nukes. When one of his friends is implicated in a murder, Cassidy does think of skipping a meet for a hot minute—but only for a hot minute.
Still, for all his tunnel vision, Cassidy is a lovely young man. He is popular even among his athletic rivals. He is a good and dutiful son, and would be a sweet boyfriend if he were interested in dating. He attempts to be thorough even in his non-sporting activities and calls everyone “sir.” The only reason his “ma’ams” are few and far between is because there are about four women in the book who have brief speaking roles. This is a man’s man’s man’s world.
To his credit, Parker surrounds his hero with some mighty interesting men, some of whom are not what they ought to be (see above). The most interesting of these is the gigantic Trapper Nelson, animal lover and sometime poacher who lives rough in the swamp; he’s south Florida’s answer to Hagrid. The boys Cassidy plays with and against are also stout fellows. The one sour note is a coach so convinced of his own rightness that he’s willing to cut the athletically brilliant Cassidy from his team for even respectfully disagreeing with him.
Racing the Rain is a cornucopia for folks who are as track-and-field crazy as Cassidy. It’s also a good-hearted, good-natured book for the rest of us.