Peter Gent Essay - Critical Essays

Gent, Peter

Introduction

Peter Gent 1942–

American novelist and scriptwriter.

A former professional football player with the Dallas Cowboys, Gent is concerned in his three novels with exposing the sordid activities of football players, coaches, and club owners. Gent's first work, North Dallas Forty (1973), is a semiautobiographical account of the last playing days of Phil Elliott, a pass receiver for the Cowboys. Much of the novel depicts his teammates' sexual exploits and drug use and the pressures placed on the players by coaches and management. Although some critics were dismayed by the explicit violence and drug cataloguing in the book, most praised Gent's insight into methods of survival in professional football. Gent collaborated on the screenplay for the 1979 film adaptation of his novel.

Gent's two subsequent novels have not been as well received. In Texas Celebrity Turkey Trot (1978), Gent relates the story of Mabry Jenkins, another Texas football player who is released from the team. Mabry attempts to capitalize on his celebrity status while hoping for one more chance to play football. Some critics found the characters and situations too similar to those in North Dallas Forty. Gent's recent novel The Franchise (1983) depicts a football team called the Texas Pistols from its inception to its appearance in the Super Bowl. Involving little on-field action, the story concentrates instead on the behind-the-scenes gambling, bribery, and political corruption which helped the Pistols become a championship team.

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 89-92 and Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook: 1982.)

Donald B. Swope

Peter Gent's first novel ["North Dallas Forty"] proves that football players are capable of talented literary works without the assistance of a "ghost."

"North Dallas Forty" is the story of eight days in the life of a professional football player. The characters are drawn very closely after those that are popularly publicized in the newspaper and, as such, are quite identifiable. Any reader who has followed professional football will undoubtedly get some satisfaction out of playing a game with such identifications, but the book runs much deeper than the typical "I am a great athlete" approach to writing that unfortunately beleaguers so many writer athletes.

Mr. Gent's book goes beyond the game and delves into America's sport-for-money morality. The motivations of the ownership, coaching staff, and players and the obvious effects of these motivations intertwine to a rather abrupt if not too surprising ending….

["North Dallas Forty"] is a book that makes you think about professional sports in general in America today, our obsession with those sports, and the overwhelming toll that is taken of the individual players. (p. 274)

Donald B. Swope, in a review of "North Dallas Forty," in Best Sellers (copyright 1973, by the Uni-versity of Scranton), Vol. 33, No. 12, September 15, 1973, pp. 274-75.

Pete Axthelm

[Peter Gent] has written a big, powerful, chaotic novel about life in pro football and in Texas. Rich in sex and drugs, violence and satiric humor, "North Dallas Forty" is neither as hilarious as Dan Jenkins's "Semi-Tough" nor as scathing and self-righteous as the various football exposés of recent seasons—but it is not meant to match any of those books. Instead, Gent has written a sensitive, personal novel about one man's attempt at survival in a cold, unnatural environment; and for the most part, he has made it work on his own terms.

Phil Elliott, Gent's hero, is a fringe player, an injury-plagued receiver who is close enough to the end of his career to see clearly into the worlds both inside and outside of football. His coach, a man of "bovine indifference" to individuals, tends to use Elliott only when the Cowboys are trailing, and Elliott learns to accept that fact and root against his teammates while he sits on the bench. Elliott and his fellow athletes laugh, discuss sex and dine together on endless amphetamines and pain killers…. For deeper relationships he must look outside his trade—but there, too, he finds emptiness and tragedy.

In a world of athletes trying to act as grand as their images, Elliott is refreshingly mortal and vulnerable. (pp. 118-119A)

"It's an age of specialists," says Elliott. Such unassuming bits of philosophy, complemented by some remarkable satire and self-mockery, produce the best moments in a book that has many good ones. There are also flaws, including endlessly repetitive medicine-cabinet drug listings and a wildly apocalyptic climax that may be a Texas novelist's occupational hazard; it is the same type of ending that vitiates other fine Texas novels such as Edwin Shrake's "Strange Peaches." Despite such difficulties, however, "North Dallas Forty" commands attention as a strong and honest work by a writer so talented that he seems certain, with a few more efforts, to make us forget that he ever happened to catch passes for a living. (pp. 119A-119B)

Pete Axthelm, "Speed for Breakfast," in Newsweek (copyright 1973, by Newsweek, Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Vol. LXXXII, No. 13, September 24, 1973, pp. 118, 119A-119B.

Dick Schaap

Many novelists write out of pain, but very few of them can pinpoint the pain the way Peter Gent can. It is in his lower back. It has been there since 1967, when a linebacker named Vince Costello, who played for the New York Giants, put it there. Costello drove a knee into Gent, who was then a wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys, and the knee ruined several ribs and ravaged the surrounding territory. Two years later, Gent stopped playing professional football, but the pain has persisted. It is reflected on nearly every page of "North Dallas Forty."

The central characters are pro football players, men who are paid to inflict pain and to absorb pain, in varying degrees, depending to an extent on whether they happen to be X's or O's. The peripheral characters are the people who own, coach, counsel and live off X's and O's, including their fans and their women; these people are not necessarily paid to inflict pain, but many of them do, free. The wounds they cause fester longer than mere physical bruises.

One of the many remarkable things about this novel is that, despite its concern with pain and with the pills that kill pain, it is a very funny book. It is not burlesque funny, like "Semi-Tough." It is truth funny….

Gent builds a strong case against professional football. Other ex-pros have sought to indict their game, most notably Dave Meggyesy in "Out of Their League." But Meggyesy's arguments...

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William Feaver

American football is hell, the pressures impossible to resist, the story goes. Peter Gent, who was one of the Dallas Cowboys for five years, writes from experience and is not afraid of giving the reader [of North Dallas Forty] a blow-by-blow account of the horrors of the profession. He writes tough, in quasi-epic para-military language…. Whenever the action dies down, Phil switches on his in-car cassettes, announces the song and composer (Rolling Stones, Byrds, Jerry Lee Lewis) and assumes that the reader will singalong awhile and hit the right mood. Such devices make it hard to take the book on anything but scenario level. The football could have done with more in the way of straight recollection: the private life is neither thrilling enough nor convincing enough to secure our full attention.

William Feaver, "Punishment Park," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1975; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3800, January 3, 1975, p. 5.

Kirkus Reviews

[Gent] obviously knows what he's talking about in [Texas Celebrity Turkey Trot, a] first-person portrait of Texas football hero Mabry Jenkins, a 30-year-old defensive back with bad knees and a hankering to stay in the limelight. It's all machismo and pathos, with Jenkins and his teammates fighting battered joints and onrushing middle age to keep their places on the team. When the worst happens and Jenkins is cut from the squad, he tags along with childhood friends—rodeo luminary Luther Watt and his wife, Nadine …—holding fast to his slipping celebrity through a series of Pro-Am junkets, golf tournaments, and fish frys…. "You ain't going to get to do it over again," Luther says to Mabry…. But Luther is proved wrong, as this raunchy novel progresses—rough, tough, sometimes crude, and always ringing true. Gent has captured the nature of a football team and its members, complete with the Damoclean sword of retirement hanging over the whole bunch.

A review of "Texas Celebrity Turkey Trot," in Kirkus Reviews (copyright © 1978 The Kirkus Service, Inc.), Vol. XLVI, No. 14, July 15, 1978, p. 764.

Publishers Weekly

[In Texas Celebrity Turkey Trot] Gent unleashes black humor upon the world of pro football the way Wambaugh does upon the demesne of metropolitan cops. Unfortunately, such slapstick doesn't go over equally well with characters outside the gridiron. A 30-year-old defensive back having his best training camp ever, Mabry Jenkins gets cut from the squad after a knee injury. Faced with a career crisis, Mabry exploits his supposed celebrity by running with a pack of Texas promoters, media heavies, among flesh pots, drug dealers…. The novel, like its protagonist, is better off at the end when Jenkins returns to the Cowboys for a last crack at receivers.

A review of "Texas...

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R. A. Higgins

Peter Gent, former offensive end for the Dallas Cowboys and author of North Dallas Forty, has written another novel about professional football [Texas Celebrity Turkey Trot]. It has the interest of any inside look written by someone who knows what he is talking about. Who but a professional football or basketball player would think "real people are tiny?" Gent is not just another athlete turned author. He has real talent. His novel is very funny, if your tolerence for jock humor consisting of scatology, crude sex and good-natured racial slur is high, but there is more here than just another knockabout vehicle for Burt Reynolds.

Gent's real subject is the problem that plagues...

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John Simon

[The film] North Dallas Forty is based on Peter Gent's autobiographical novel, which he adapted for the screen with the help of Ted Kotcheff, the director, and Frank Yablans, the producer. I am told that the book is much tougher and seamier than the script, but I doubt whether the book's greater seaminess is ipso facto more valuable than the film's greater seemliness. I am willing to concede that there remains some exposé value in the film; but what if the things exposed are predictable and unmomentous? The quasi-religious overtones—of the players as sacrificial victims; indeed of Christ and Judas figures—that some have perceived here strike me as unconvincing, unearned. As for the rather stilted...

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Robert W. Creamer

What are we to make of Peter Gent … whose third novel, The Franchise …, was published last month? Gent's first novel, the rowdy, swinging North Dallas Forty, received a lot of attention, sold vigorously, turned Gent into what Dan Jenkins might call a semi-celebrity and was made into a movie of sorts. Gent then wrote Texas Celebrity Turkey Trot, an admirable effort in that he was trying to write a novel that took him beyond the autobiographical environs of North Dallas Forty. Though this attempt didn't come off very well, Gent showed that he at least deserved to be looked upon as a genuine writer, rather than as a former football player fooling around with a typewriter….

...

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Dick Roraback

Just when you thought it was safe to bet the spread again, Peter Gent has written another book about pro football.

Well, not exactly. Gent, author of the best-selling "North Dallas Forty," has written ["The Franchise"], a novel about venality, corruption, psychosis, sex, drugs, fraud and brutality, with our next-to-national pastime as focus and backdrop. In short, another best-seller.

It is a book tenanted almost entirely by villains, from the league commissioner on down. And down and down. Scum might be a more appropriate word, were it not for the insinuation that we, the beer-burping fans, are implicated in the conspiracy—through ignorance, of course. Still, better dumb...

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