The Crazy Horse Electric Game

by Chris Crutcher

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The Championship GameThe Crazy Horse Electric Game by Chris Crutcher begins with Willie Weaver, the star pitcher for Coho, Montana’s local baseball team, preparing to play the most important game of his life. Willie is blessed with a golden arm that earns him legend-like status among his friends and family, and he knows that winning the game for his team, Samson Floral, rests entirely on his shoulders. However, Willie’s got the confidence to know that when he’s on, nobody can touch his fastball. The whole town of Coho is counting on Willie to bring in their very first championship trophy, especially Willie’s father, Big Will, who seems to be living vicariously through his son’s sports triumphs and failures. Big Will’s claim to fame was playing football in the ’60s for the University of Washington and winning the Rose Bowl. Despite the fact that Willie knows his dad is proud of him, father and son have never been able to achieve any significant emotional connection.

On the day of the big game, Willie is on fire; no batter has reached second base, and Samson Floral is ahead 1–0 in the seventh inning. By the bottom on the ninth, however, Willie makes his first mistake of the game, putting the tying run on first just before the opposing team’s big hitter steps up to the plate. When the next pitch is thrown, Willie loses his balance as the ball is hit hard toward third base. Miraculously, Willie catches the line drive on pure instinct and “etches the Crazy Horse Electric game in the mind of every citizen and ball player and coach—maybe even dog and cat—in Coho, Montana.”

The Accident With the championship under his belt, Willie is riding high for the whole summer. On a weekend getaway with his parents, his girlfriend, Jenny, and best friend, Johnny, Willie has a tragic accident while water skiing that leaves him physically disabled. The body he once had complete power over is now broken and out of his control. Willie feels ashamed, embarrassed, and frustrated over his condition. He wants to avoid everyone, but Jenny and his friends insist on bringing him back into the fold. Despite everyone’s efforts to make Willie feel comfortable, their behavior has the opposite effect. Willie can’t stand the pity and begins to retreat into his own world, which is wrought with depression and suicidal thoughts.

Willie’s parents send him to a therapist, who tries to help Willie deal with his feelings about the accident. After a few sessions, it seems as if Willie is making some progress until he has a big blowout with Big Will, who thinks Willie isn’t trying hard enough to recover. Willie feels like he’s failed his father while Big Will’s insensitive attitude angers Willie’s mom and it creates a wide rift in the marriage. In addition to Willie’s family life falling apart, he catches Jenny with a classmate and knows that she’s betrayed him. That night, Willie overhears a vicious fight between his parents, fueled partly by lingering resentment over the death of Willie’s baby sister a few years ago, and he believes the only answer is to run away and release his loved ones from the burden he has put on them.

The Escape Willie packs his bags, takes all the money he can find, and boards a Greyhound bus headed toward San Francisco. He makes it all the way to Oakland, but gets stranded late at night because the bus breaks down. Willie finds himself surrounded by a local gang who spot his cane and see him as an easy...

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target. Despite his best efforts to escape, the gang attacks Willie, takes all his money, and leaves him battered and bleeding in the street. Willie is rescued by a local bus driver named Lacey, who takes him home and lets him stay the night.

Despite Lacey’s original insistence that Willie can only stay one night, the two work out an agreement where Willie agrees to help Lacey around the house in exchange for room and board. In addition, Willie discovers that Lacey is in a dubious line of work. Lacey calls it “human relations,” which Willie quickly translates. Even though Lacey is a pimp, Willie knows he’s in no position to be making moral judgments. That day, Lacey calls in a favor in order to get Willie enrolled in a local school for disadvantaged and troubled teens called OMLC (One More Last Chance) High School.

OMLC At OMLC, Willie bonds with Lisa, the physical education teacher who recruits Willie as her pet project in working toward her physical therapy degree. Willie is reluctant at first to trust her, but she makes quick progress with Willie, thus enabling him to feel less self-conscious about his broken body. He also becomes close to Andre, the school’s principal, who looks after Willie like an older brother. Life with Lacey, however, doesn’t go as smoothly. Late one night, Willie wakes to a fierce argument between Lacey and one of his girls, who just happens to be a classmate of Willie’s. When he defends the girl and leaves Lacey unconscious, Willie is terrified that Lacey will kill him. He is set to move into the school’s basement, but for some mysterious reason, Lacey tells Willie to stay.

Soon, Willie learns that he is granted permission to stay because Lacey is trying to redeem himself for a past wrong. Apparently, Lacey beat his own son so badly that he was permanently brain damaged and now lives in a hospital. Lacey is forbidden to see his own son and believes he can ease his troubled conscience by aiding Willie.

Burning Down the OMLC As Willie continues to progress with Lisa’s help and some tai chi classes, he finds his center and makes strides on the basketball court, which also gives Willie an opportunity to make friends with two other classmates, Hawk and Kato. At the same time, Andre is working hard to make decorative improvements on the school. However, the improvements are short-lived when the gang who beat up Willie months ago starts to deface the school with graffiti. Kato decides it’s time to teach the gang a lesson, and with the keys to the school, makes a plan for himself, Hawk, and Willie to take down the gang when they make their next strike. The night of the rumble, Willie finds himself facing the gang alone. The gang sets the school on fire, and Willie barely escapes but manages not only to save his own life but that of the gang leader as well.

Going Home Despite the tragedy, Andre vows to work just as hard to return the school to its old glory. Willie, inspired by Andre’s vision, works so hard with Lisa that it is now almost impossible to tell that he has any physical disability. On the day of graduation, Willie makes a moving speech and thanks everyone, including Lacey, who has helped him recover. Believing his time at OMLC has run its course, Willie boards a bus and heads back to Coho, where he hopes to make amends with his friends and family. When he arrives, Willie finds that in the two years since he’s been gone, so much has changed. His parents are divorced, his mother is remarried, and his father is unemployed and struggling with alcoholism. In addition, Willie’s surprise reunion with Jenny is wrought with tension as she is just not ready to deal with the aftermath of Willie’s sudden disappearance and unexpected return. After two lengthy and separate conversations with his parents, Willie realizes that Coho is not his home anymore. He knows it will take time to rebuild a relationship with his parents, and that someday he’ll come back again, but in Coho, he still feels disabled, like he did before he left. As the novel ends, Willie takes his father’s motorcycle, says goodbye, and heads back to Oakland.

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