cover image Pure Life

Pure Life

Eugene Marten. Strange Light, $16 (320p) ISBN 978-0-7710-5176-0

Marten (Waste) delivers a relentless and vivid story of a retired football player who has gladly sacrificed his mind and body to the sport. The protagonist, known only as “Nineteen” for his jersey number, is a left-handed quarterback from “the middle of America” who becomes an NFL star despite his modest physical gifts. In an engrossing impressionist rush, Marten chronicles Nineteen’s high school, college, and professional career with “The Only Team That Matters,” brilliantly capturing the “Dadaist poetry” of play calls, the blur of moving bodies, and the numbing catalog of injuries (“All the Latin words for pain”). Within 40 pages, Nineteen is retired, but his Lear-like suffering has just begun. He goes bankrupt after failed real estate investments, gets divorced, drinks to excess, and attempts suicide. Episodes of short-term memory loss allude to possible brain damage from his multiple concussions. After traveling to Honduras for experimental stem cell treatment, he joins a dangerous tour of the Mosquito Coast, where he encounters new levels of violence and degradation among roving paramilitary gangs. The adventure produces memorable scenes and suspense, but its lurid, action movie qualities jar with Marten’s intense psychological portrait of a fallen idol. Messy and fascinating, this blitzes the reader with a disorienting stream of language and genres. (May)