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Reviewed by:
  • The Greyhound God
  • Leslie Wootten
The Greyhound God by Keith Lee MorrisUniversity of Nevada Press, 2003, 314 pp., $23

At last! Fiction featuring greyhound racing. Keith Lee Morris's novel The Greyhound God is the first such novel since W. R. Burnett's 1933 Dark Hazard. Morris is to be commended for closing that seventy-year gap. Let's hope that his recent novel will pave the way for more fiction that draws from the sport's rich and vivid tableau. Both Morris and Burnett make good use of that tableau, filling their novels with an abundance of greyhound-racing action. In both novels, however, plot effectively takes a back seat to character.

The Greyhound God is Morris's first novel, and it contains the requisite childhood loss that haunts protagonist Luke Rivers. The loss is particularly traumatic because it was Luke's younger brother who died, while out with their father in his patrol car, as the result of a random shooting. Though they are clearly not to blame, Luke and his father still feel guilt so overwhelming that they both—in differing ways—pull inward, withdrawing from life. Instead of talking about the loss, they outwardly ignore it while silently suffering. Luke's father throws himself into work, becoming a shell of himself. Luke eventually leaves home and begins traveling from greyhound racetrack to racetrack, gambling along the way.

We suspect early on that Luke is not a hardcore gambler, however. What draws him to the track is his need to flee from the past. A racetrack [End Page 196] is a good place to flee to, especially a greyhound racetrack because the action is constant, with races going off every fifteen minutes (anyone who has tried to pick a dog during this short period understands how little time there is). Luke also develops a ritual that includes lighting a cigarette, taking a drink of beer and saying a prayer to the Greyhound God before every race. The Greyhound God, Luke has come to believe, is the "God of all things that go wrong . . . the God of imperfection . . . whose job is to look after the sinners and the losers." As the novel unfolds, it is clear that Luke considers himself both a sinner and a loser in the larger scheme of things, even if he wins at the track.

Told in the first person, the novel is narrated primarily by Luke, with several chapters narrated by his wife, Jenny. Luke reveals in the first few pages that Jenny has left him, taking their only child, Jake, with her. While this loss upsets Luke, it does not mark him in the way the loss of his brother did. What the absence does, though, is force Luke to reflect on his life, past and present. He must confront his demons if he is to have any chance at reuniting with his wife and child.

Luke's reflections, which dominate the novel, recount his brother's death as well as other good and bad moments the two brothers shared. Revisiting that past openly and honestly is a vital first step in Luke's healing process. The chapters narrated by Luke's wife give readers a different perspective on Luke, as well as on their marriage. Jenny's calm, centered insight provides a contrast to Luke's self-flagellating angst. She is indeed wise and patient beyond her years. Through Jenny's narration, we discover that she has not returned home to her parents, as Luke has assumed. Rather, she has gone to Luke's hometown in Idaho and lives near his mother, a move clearly revealing that Jenny does not want to break the marriage.

She does want Luke to make peace with himself and quit running, though. She wants a whole family, with Luke emotionally as well as physically present. She believes that once he faces his demons he will not only embrace his true value but settle into being the fine husband and father she knows he can be. As the novel draws to a close, Luke has completed an introspective journey that has taken him to a new level of self-awareness and self-forgiveness. He...


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pp. 196-197
Launched on MUSE
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