Monday, June 18, 2007

Fast Copy by Dan Jenkins, Simon and Schuster, 1988

Not having anything else I wanted to read the other day; I picked up a copy of Fast Copy that had been moldering on my bookshelf for some years. As I began reading it, I met Betsy Throckmorton, wise-cracking daughter of Ben, just returning to Claybelle, TX, a fictional town south of Fort Worth with her Yalie Yankee husband Ted to take over Daddy’s newspaper (her as editor) and radio station (him as manager). Betsy and Ted are met at the station by an assortment of Texas folks right out of Jenkins’ catalog of characters. There’s the wildcat oilman, the banker, the too made up and sexy wives and girlfriends, the loyal black servant couple, the Texas Ranger, and the two red-neck louts. These people wise-crack, love, get richer or poorer, swap mates, and kill each other for the next 396 pages.

Dan Jenkins is best known to his readers as one of the great sports writers of the second half of the twentieth century. Writing mostly about his twin passions – golf and football – Jenkins has enlivened the pages of Sports Illustrated, Golf Digest, Playboy and many other magazines. His books include the football classic Semi-Tough and a great golf book, Dead Solid Perfect, too. Fast Copy allows him to write about still another passion, newspapers. Set in the continuing depression in Texas of the mid-1930’s, Fast Copy allows his characters to assert the worthlessness of those who suffer most from the depression while allowing the Texans getting rich from oil and banking at the expense of others to make fools of themselves. Jenkins’ ear for dialogue is as dead solid perfect as the drives of one of his golf characters. The story allows Betsy and Ted to bring their eastern sensibilities to rural Texas. Betsy re-designs the pages of her paper to increase its world view in the face of the rise of Hitler and Mussolini. Ted seeks to examine the hobo jungle that local residents see as a source of pestilence rather than the result of economic disaster. Jenkins shrewdly inserts his social message through Betsy’s wit and commitment to finding and exposing the truth.

After completing about 120 or so pages of this book, I put it down, figuring I was hearing more of Jenkins razor wit and Texas talk, which I had become familiar with in real life through a three year stint teaching in east Texas during the seventies, than I wanted. I thought that the book was too filled with wisecracking and too light on plot and character development. Some days later I picked it back up, and I’m glad I did. I was wrong on all three counts, as the book moves to a rousing climax and the characters become more interesting as it progresses. By the end, I cared about Betsy Throckmorton and her friends and lovers, while I admired her courage and spunk. The format allows Jenkins to make his humor laden and cogent comments about football and journalism, with a slight bow to golf as well as a large dollop of both Texas and New York. This book is a more than worthwhile diversion for someone looking for a book that’s both light and thought provoking.