Perpetual Check

Anyone familiar with Rich Wallace will find familiar themes in this book – competition, big fish in a little pond, parental conflict.  Wallace manages to make chess a contact sport, particularly because of the “little league parent” father.

Zeke and Randy hail from Sturbridge, a small Pennsylvania town Wallace sets his stories in.  They are chess players, good enough to make the regional tournament.  But that is where the similarities end.  Zeke’s father has raised him as if he is something special, an elite athlete.  Zeke knows better but it takes much of the book to admit that to himself. The description of his father’s athletic career is telling.

They never hear the end of how Mr. Mansfield was a year-round athlete back in high school, playing on the kick off and punt teams in football, getting some decent time on the JV basketball squad before being cut as a senior, and earning a letter in baseball despite spending most of the season recording stats from the bench (p.38)
Mr. Mansfield needs to relive his athletics and victories through his kids because HE NEVER HAD ANY.   Also interesting how it is always Mr. Mansfield – as if he has no first name.

Randy has given up sports, even he admits he is a little soft, but it in his eyes it isn’t quite the sin his father and brother think it is.

Zeke and Randy do not get along, they don’t like each other, and as the dual narration illustrates they do not understand each other.  Their true feelings and motivations go undiscovered as they try to survive their father’s pressure.

There is no major event that the plot swings on, it is more a character study.  Zeke isn’t a particularly likable character, he takes advantage of his brother and treats him poorly.  But he is hiding more than Randy, making him a more complex character.  In some ways the father is nothing more than a stereotypical “stage parent” but it isn’t too distracting as his role is to allow the boys to develop.

Not my favorite, but it was ok.


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