All Joe Knight

Kevin Morris. Grove, $25 (368p) ISBN 978-0-8021-2578-1
Morris’s debut novel (following the story collection White Man’s Problems) explores a narcissist’s search for meaning in a world that he treats with disdain. Joe Knight never met his father—who “ran into a telephone pole” ending a “nonstop bender” that began when his wife told him she was pregnant—and was orphaned at six months when his mother’s body was found with another man in a “smashed-up T-bird.” He is raised by his aunt Dottie in the middle-class suburbs of Philadelphia. Joe is a member of the 1977–78 Fallcrest High School basketball team, which offers him a sense of belonging and a glimmer of the greatness that he feels he is destined for, despite his rocky start. (“I’ll light you up all night long. All Knight Long,” the narrator says.) Decades later, Joe is divorced with a daughter and living alone in Philadelphia. He’s “made enough money” from the sale of his advertising agency and “cut off enough strings that I don’t have to do anything and I like it.” When his old teammate Chris Scully—a starter to Joe’s bench position—now the district attorney of Dover County, tips Joe off that federal prosecutors are investigating the sale of his company to a French conglomerate, a deal that Joe cut most of his old teammates in on, it pushes Joe to reckon with his relationships. Pennsylvania and basketball are Updike territory, and one can read this story as homage (Joe’s ex is named Janice, like Rabbit Angstrom’s wife). Even as an echo of Rabbit’s mid-century angst, Morris’s novel deftly shows that the frustrations of a stunted middle-aged man are evocative terrain. Agent: Jane von Mehren, Zachary Shuster Harmsworth (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 09/19/2016
Release date: 12/01/2016
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