Saturday Art: Influential Authors: Dan Jenkins
I’m pretty sure I first discovered Dan Jenkins’s writing when he was covering college football and golf for Sports Illustrated. Jenkins is of the breed who can be called “a good writer who writes about sports” rather than “a sportswriter.” From his wiki:
Dan Jenkins (born December 2, 1929) is an American author and sportswriter who often wrote for Sports Illustrated.
Jenkins was born and raised in Fort Worth, Texas, where he attended R .L. Paschal High School and Texas Christian University (TCU), where he played on the varsity golf team. Jenkins has worked for many publications including the Fort Worth Press, Dallas Times Herald, Playboy, and Sports Illustrated, where among other things he covered the 1966, 1967, 1969 and 1971 versions of the college football Game of the Century. In 1985 he retired from Sports Illustrated and began writing books full-time, although he maintains a monthly column in Golf Digest magazine.
I have to say right here that if you have never read any of Jenkins’s novels he uses a lot of racist, sexist, totally non-politically correct, misogynistic language that in anyone else’s hands would be hateful but he is able to make the phrases comedic, mocking, and satirical rather than hateful. In some instances, his characters are “products of their times” while others reflect the locker-room culture and “boys-will-be-boys” of professional athletes. One review on Goodreads.com of his first novel Semi-Tough said it was to pro-football what Animal House is to college life.
I read Semi-Tough not long after it was first published in 1972. It is the “adventures” of Billy Clyde Puckett, “Shake” Tiller, Barbara Jane Bookman, her father “Big Ed” Bookman (Texas Oil Bidnessman), and her mother, “Big Barb” Bookman. From the Goodreads intro:
The novel follows the outsize adventures of Billy Clyde Puckett, star halfback for the New York Giants, whose team has come to Los Angeles for an epic duel with the despised “dog-ass” Jets in the Super Bowl. But Billy Clyde is faced with a dual challenge: not only must he try to run over a bunch of malevolencies incarnate, but he has also been commissioned by a New York book publisher to keep a journal of the events leading up to, including, and following the game.
The reviews of Semi-Tough on Goodreads seem to run the gamut from those totally offended by the language and situations to those who think it is one of the greatest sports books ever. There are two sequels, Life Its Ownself and Rude Behavior.
Jenkins second book, Dead Solid Perfect is set in the world of professional golf with the major character being Billy Clyde Puckett’s “Uncle Kenny.” Baja Oklahoma moves away from the world of professional sports to the story of a bartender/aspiring singer songwriter and her life. From the Goodreads synopsis:
Dan Jenkins’ second best-known novel, Baja Oklahoma, features protagonist Juanita Hutchins, who can cuss and politically commentate with the best of Jenkins’ male protagonists. Still convincingly female, though in no way dumb and girly, fortyish Juanita serves drinks to the colorful crew patronizing Herb’s Cafe in South Fort Worth, worries herself sick over a hot-to-trot daughter proving too fond of drugs and the dealers who sell them, endures a hypochondriac mother whose whinings would justify murder, dates a fellow middle-ager whose connections with the oil industry are limited to dipstick duty at his filling station—and, by the way, she also hopes to become a singer-songwriter in the real country tradition of Bob Wills and Willie Nelson.
In Fast Copy, his vastly underrated novel about Texas, newspapers, and Texas newspapering in the 1930s, Dan Jenkins writes of his hero, “newshen” Betsy Throckmorton, that her approach to local news — to wit, actually covering it — so inflames a prominent local merchant that he storms into her office and threatens to pull all his advertising. In response, Betsy tells the guy that she is suspending him, and that his advertisement is no longer welcome in her newspaper and, basically, he can go to hell or Waco, his choice. Naturally, by the end of the encounter, the goober is begging Betsy to take his advertising back. What can I tell you, but I think MSNBC chief Phil Griffin is no Betsy Throckmorton.
Fast Copy is set in small town Texas of the Depression and offers a bit of murder mystery, slice of small town life, and character study. While still full of Jenkins wit and humor, it also provides a look at some things many would prefer not to examine too closely.
Jenkins has published non-fiction as well as fiction, covering golf and college football as well as collections of his columns. Even in his non-fiction, he turns humorous phrases that can make a point. I have read all the books I have mentioned here today as well as a few others of Jenkins that I have not discussed.
Semi-Tough, Dead Solid Perfect, and Baja Oklahoma have all been made into movies with Semi-Tough being big screen while the latter two were TV/cable movies. Burt Reynolds, Jill Clayburgh, and Kris Kristofferson starred in Semi-Tough, Randy Quaid in Dead Solid Perfect, and Lesley Anne Warren, Peter Coyote, and Swoosie Kurtz in Baja Oklahoma
I’m going to close today with the list of “The 10 Stages of Drunkeness” from Baja Oklahoma:
1. Witty and Charming
2. Rich and Powerful
5. Fuck Dinner
7. Crank up the Enola Gay
8. Witty and Charming, Part II
For the record, you do not have to hit each stage through a single night but I can rest assured that at some point during my drinking years, I have been at each point.
Picture from drmvm1 licensed under Creative Commons