"Balls," by Nanci Kincaid. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill...

BRIEF

November 15, 1998|By Art Jester | Art Jester,Knight Ridder/Tribune

"Balls," by Nanci Kincaid. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. 396 pages. $21.95. In the South, football ranks just behind evangelical Christianity as the region's dominant form of religion.

Or maybe I've got that backward. On autumn afternoons on big state university campuses, football is the South's religion (although evangelical Christianity still plays a big supporting role). All this makes for serious business or a big human comedy (or maybe both), depending on how you view things.

"Balls" is at once a lonely but acutely perceptive story of a football coach's wife and a hilarious send-up on college football in the South.

It is, first and foremost, the story of Dixie Gibbs, the wife of Mac Gibbs, who rises from high school coach to college assistant coach to head coach at the fictional Birmingham University ("HamU"). You've gotta love a school whose cheer is "Bite 'em, Black Bears!"

The story is told through the eyes of several women, white and black coaches' wives, maids, players' mothers and others. The dialogue is so uncanny and earthy (as only Southern speech can be) that I won't be able to sneak some of the best quotes past the copy desk.

Creating dialogue is one of Kincaid's strengths, as is her ability to portray the struggle of these women in a world in which they are supposed to be silent helpers and stage props in their husbands' lives. It's tough because they love their men, but their anger and frustration builds as the men keep their thoughts and feelings to themselves.

It's not that the women (or Kincaid) don't have some real empathy for the men, who work under intense pressure and scrutiny. It's just that the lifestyle is tough and unfair, especially when the team starts losing.

In the end, this is not a book about football as much as it is about a woman's inner search, and the need for everyone, male and female, to show some courage, as the novel's title implies.

Pub Date: 11/15/98

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