Hard Work: A Life On and Off the Court by Roy Williams with Tim Crothers
I am one of the few students who ever attended the University of North Carolina and never drank a beer.
This would be a fine gift for the college basketball fan who always roots for the University of North Carolina (UNC) Tar Heels over Duke. In Hard Work, Coach Roy Williams comes off a national championship season to tell the story of his life. Williams is portrayed as extremely likeable and modest, if far too much of a Goody Two Shoes. It may be hard for someone to relate to a person as focused as Williams has been his entire life. Since high school he had only one goal: to be a sports coach. Interestingly, he tells us of his motivation as a young man whose father deserted the family when he was eleven, “I saw coaching basketball as a way to give some kids the father figure I never had.”
The fault with Hard Work, as with most “as told to…” autobiographies, is that Williams’ personality never quite manages to land within its pages. It reads like something that might have been scripted by an adoring UNC student, although all in all it’s far from being a bad tale. This reader, however, would prefer to read a self-penned autobiography that contains a few grammatical errors yet retains the voice of the person whose story is being told. Something is lost in translation when a professional writer has to select the words of a subject’s life story.
Algonquin Books, $24.95, 288 pages
Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.
If you’re looking for something quite different, this is it. Oxygen by Carol Cassella is an interesting medical-legal tale told from the perspective of a practicing anesthesiologist. In this story, Dr. Marie Heaton is the anesthesiologist who tells the mother of a young girl going into surgery, “I’m going to keep her very safe for you.” Then the child dies on the operating table mid-procedure.
The death begins the unraveling of the doctor’s life professionally and emotionally, as she faces a civil suit and perhaps even criminal sanctions. Cassella (an English literature major at Duke before completing medical school) is excellent at creating tension to the point where lights seem to dim as you move further along in this living nightmare.
The reader relates fully with Dr. Heaton because she’s apparently made no major mistakes (she may have cut one minor corner) yet faces horrendous consequences because a child is dead. Dr. Heaton also begins to see that the friends and colleagues who’ve pledged to stand beside her begin to drop away. At the end, she may have only her Texas-based family members to rely upon; and faint hopes of a miraculous exoneration.
I will not say any more about the plot except to note that it is set in Seattle, a place Cassella brings to life whether or not you’ve visited Pike Place Market. Ironically, Dr. Horton and her fellow doctors have moved to Seattle for its scenery, which they rarely see due to 14-hour workdays.
For a first-time novelist, Cassella’s style is smooth and easy: “The freeway dumps us into a nest of prewar bungalows huddling below the glass and metal giants of downtown (Houston). The houses are painted in the vivid Easter egg yellows and blues and lavenders my mother always associated with the Mexican barrios that percolate up through the soul of all Texas cities like boiling springs, their mariachis… and Spanish seared into our cultural palate.”
I have just two reservations about the telling of this story. The first is that life becomes such a harsh struggle so quickly for the main character that some may find it too depressing to hold their interest. Second, the Seattle hospital that Dr. Heaton works at never seemed real… Those who know hospitals may find that something seems to be missing.
Despite these two points, I’m glad I read this one-of-a-kind novel. I’m a fan of stories where the ending has not been revealed fifty, seventy-five or one hundred pages before it arrives… This one also comes with a bit of an epilogue which is a pleasant surprise.