Pretending the Bed Is a Raft

Nanci Kincaid, Author
Nanci Kincaid, Author Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill $17.95 (252p) ISBN 978-1-56512-177-5
Reviewed on: 12/30/1996
Release date: 01/01/1997
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In the same season as Elwood Reid's If I Don't Six (Forecasts, June 29) comes another fictional expose of the college football scene--this time from a woman's point of view. Kincaid describes, with mixed success, the education of a coach's wife in the deep South, where football is a secular religion. Having twice been married to a university football coach, Kincaid knows just how and often why the pigskin bounces, and it shows in the ease with which she handles her 15 female narrators, who view the game from every side but the gridiron itself. Some come on for just a few pages; others, including Dixie Gibbs (the coach's wife), her mother, her mother's maid, her mother-in-law, her daughter and her friends (wives of other coaches or mothers of players) reappear throughout. This structure impedes the story: Is it about Dixie, about her husband Mac, their marriage, the multiple burdens on the family? It is all about these things, in part, but the parts don't cohere. Kincaid takes on rich material: changing racial attitudes on and off the field (the story begins in 1968); a thinly veiled portrait of Alabama's legendary cpack, Paul ""Bear"" Bryant; an insider's view of recruiting; the relief when ""the girl's father dropped the charges""; pastors who yell, ""Hit him like you mean it, boy."" But it all makes us long for a strong central intelligence. Even if she spreads her voices too thin, however, Kincaid is a master at re-creating the speech and spirit of ebullient Southern women, and the novel achieves a seductive power in the parallel lives of the coaches' wives, each one a hostage to her husband's career. As her 1997 collection of short stories, Pretending the Bed is a Raft, proved, Kincaid is a fresh, promising voice in the serio-comic good ol' girl school, with lots to say about male- and female-bonding, off-the-field competition and troubled marriages. In her chorus-line rendition of A Doll's House at halftime, she hasn't quite found the shape to show her wit and wisdom to their best advantage. Author tour. (Oct.)
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