"Edson’s vivid portrayal of the urban area, as well as the working class and underclass, creates a vision of Saint John that highlights the discrepancy between the pre-modern idyllic notion of life in Atlantic Canada and the more complicated reality of the region."

-The New Brunswick Literary Encyclopedia

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Goon reviewed in Front&Centre Magazine

The Goon
June 25, 2011
by Jerrod Edson
Oberon Press, p. 153, $19.95
Review by Matthew Firth
The Goon tells the story of Jack Jones, a washed-up former NHL enforcer adjusting to life after his glory days have passed. Jack played twenty seasons in the NHL, followed by two seasons of senior hockey in St John, New Brunswick. He then settled in St John to work as a bridge toll-booth operator. Jack boasts that he is writing a memoir of his playing days to anyone who will listen when he drinks and rehashes the past.
Roy Sweeney is Jack’s neighbour. His son Cam is a flashy, offensively-gifted rookie hockey player in the same senior league Jack played in at the close of his career. Roy is a retired teacher. He’s gay and in mourning for a partner who is five years deceased. Jack and Roy start an unlikely friendship one afternoon when Jack accidentally shoots his gun near Roy. Jack gets the idea that Roy – being an educated man – can help him write his book. Roy agrees, mostly because he is bored and lonely in retirement. They grow closer, attending hockey games together, drinking and providing each other with companionship. All the while, the book doesn’t get written but this doesn’t really matter. The real story is how these two men cope with life after their passions have fizzled and died.
Cam’s hockey career is a sub plot. He’s a small player who ends up being ostracized by his teammates for not taking part in a bench-clearing brawl. Eventually, Cam goes to Jack for help, the sort of help that lands Cam in hospital as he tries to win back the respect of his teammates.
The Goon is an entertaining and fluid novel that works well because Edson does not resort to cliché in telling the story. Sure, Jack Jones drinks, chases after a waitress, and dismisses the current generation of hockey players for being too soft but his compassion for Roy shows human depth and courage well beyond what is needed to drop the gloves in an NHL hockey game. Likewise, Edson avoids cliché with Roy: a gay painter who is also a hockey dad in a rough, mid-sized Canadian city. These are memorable characters to be sure.
One particular criticism stands out and it’s based on the fictional statistical record of Jones provided at the end of the book. Looking at the numbers, I’m not convinced they are plausible, based on the time when Jack would have played (from 69-70 to 88-89 in the NHL). I have a few beefs: the penalty minute numbers are way too low. Anyone who would have been a fighter with Boston in the mid-1970s would have had way more penalty minutes. Recall Dave Schultz set the NHL record for PIMs at this time with 472 in a season. Jack has less than half this much in any season. Also, Jack’s goals and assists are way too low for a 1970s enforcer. That was before current fourth-line enforcers who do little more than fight were on NHL rosters. Schultz and others took a regular shift and were also decent hockey players. Schultz was a 20-goal scorer one year; Tiger Williams once scored 35 goals. Edson has Jones scoring 0 goals in 76-77, which is inconceivable over a full season. Likewise, many NHL tough guys were decent scorers in junior. Williams was a 50-goal man in junior. Enforcers adapted to their tough guy role in the NHL in the 1970s and 1980s. Edson has Jack scoring only 6 total goals as a forward in his entire junior career, which never would have put him on an NHL roster in the early 70s. The statistics presented are more like the numbers of guys like Colton Orr and Trevor Gillies, current, talentless NHLers who truly almost never score and only fight. In the 1970s and early 80s when Jack Jones was supposed to have played, it was a different story entirely. Edson should have ensured Jones’ numbers were more in keeping with the era in which he played. This might seem like a minor quibble but to me it affects the authenticity of the novel’s lead character.

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Anonymous said...

Sounds like it could be a good read if the faults you come up with are fictional stats given at the end of the book.

Jerrod Edson said...

I was going along with the stats of a Harold Snepsts type of player...I gave Jack about half as many points.

Anonymous said...
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CKealy said...

I live in Seattle and love this book! Jerrod creates great depth to his characters that stay with you long after you read it. I could care less about the hockey stats b/c I am American and don't understand hockey anyways:)

Anonymous said...

What a waste of a review to focus on fictional stats of a fictional character.

Jerrod Edson said...

Hey I'm happy to get reviewed...like the saying goes, any press is good press.