Oh, Mick Foley. I like you, I really do. And I really like you as an author, maybe even more so than I liked you as a professional wrestler who used tOh, Mick Foley. I like you, I really do. And I really like you as an author, maybe even more so than I liked you as a professional wrestler who used to do ridiculously over-the-top stunts (Hell in the Cell, anyone?) just to shock your audience. When I read your first novel, Tietam Brown, I praised it everywhere I could and commended you on your impressive ability to put a little sweet cherry on the heartbreaking beats that populated your coming-of-age story set in the 80s. I was so impressed that you could take these outlandishly tragic elements and tether them to such real emotions to make what should seem like attempts at pure shock seem so much more poignant and sincere. And then you wrote “Scooter,” and for the first 50 or so pages you had me. But then you had to go back to your old bag of tricks, which now appear much more stale than they did the first time you used them, mainly because they lost all that genuine emotion that grounded them in the first place, leaving “Scooter” as just a hollow list of stunts in order to shock the reader and nothing more.
Although, maybe that first paragraph is being a bit harsh on Mick Foley’s second foray into adult fiction. As I mentioned, “Scooter” starts off nicely. The story focuses on the growing years of a boy named Scooter (after the nickname of the legendary Yankee Phil Razzuto) as he matures through the l970s while living in the deteriorating Bronx. The son and grandson of two men wholly in love with baseball, Scooter grows up relating everything to the sport, including the tragedies that come his way. And boy, are there tragedies. Lots of ‘em, in fact. So much so to the point that the reader is wondering if Foley was actually trying to write a novel or just out do himself in coming up with a list of the crappiest things that can happen in a person’s life. And there in lies the main tragedy of this book—it starts off wonderfully flawed enough as is. The characters come off so real and ruined from the beginning that they are already quite interesting. Scooter’s father is a hard-working cop with a drinking problem trying to be the best man he can while providing for his selfish, shopaholic wife and their two kids. Scooter’s grandfather is a deformed old man trying to repent for his sins from decades past. And Scooter himself provides some real genuine drama as a boy trying to understand the world around him as the only neighborhood he has even known sinks into poverty and crime. Despite all these problems, Scooter and his family preserver and it makes for a damn entertaining and emotional read. But then, as if he ran out of motivation for the story, Foley starts putting this family through the ringer in the most over-the-top ways possible. It’s not that the events (which I wont spoil) that happen aren’t realistic, but they are not “organic.” They’re outlandish in regards to the story and the direction it’s going. Some of the trials and tragedy endured by this family—and Scooter, in particular—made me shake my head and spit a defiant “Seriously?” in the pages. It was almost as if Foley was sitting there saying, “You think that’s bad? That’s nuttin’! Wait until THIS happens, hahah! Pretty messed up, huh? But not as messed up as THIS!”
To make matters worse, when it appears that Foley can’t carry the story on shock value alone anymore, he begins to write Scooter into one of the most annoying and insufferable characters imaginable—something that feels very accidental, seeing as Foley is clearly (and quite desperately) trying to get you to root for his protagonist. Unfortunately, towards the last third of the book Scooter’s internal monologue turns into a text-book display of underdog syndrome—that unbearable “you think you’re better than me?!” kind of attitude that really makes it hard to lend any sympathy since the character is too busy trying to prove how much better he is than you via a “Pity Me” contest.
This isn’t to say the book is without any saving merits. There are a lot of scenes between Scooter and his grandfather or Scooter and his family where we get a feel for the great novel that could have been. And to be fair, as I mentioned earlier, the characters as they were introduced were so flawed and interesting that it would have been more fun to see them develop normally instead of simply “cope” with ridiculously over-the-top tragedy. Also, the dialog is strong and fresh, particularly in the beginning. Plus, as a baseball fan, a warm, glowing smile splashed across my face when I saw Scooter and his paternal figures getting the same child-like thrill out of the Great American Pastime as I did growing up.
Overall, though it wasn’t unbearable, I can’t recommend this book. Not only does it try too hard (and fail) to have its desired dramatic impact, but it also makes Foley’s last book look worse. “Scooter,” despite its good parts, devalues Foley as a writer and makes him look more like the shock artist his wrestling fans are more familiar with. ...more