(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Gary Harkness is a talented young halfback with a troubled mind and soul, and Logos College in West Texas is a last chance for him. Gary’s troubles begin with his father’s saying about life: “Suck in that gut and go harder.” His father had played football at Michigan State University, and his life creed is an amalgam of clichés from Teddy Roosevelt as adapted by Knute Rockne: “(1) A team sport. (2) The need to sacrifice. (3) Preparation for the future. (4) Microcosm of life.” This parody of the work ethic and the American Dream sticks in Gary’s throat, making him a constant disappointment to his pharmaceutical salesman father.

His father, who had spent most of his time on the bench, makes a real football player out of Gary, who becomes all-state and receives twenty-eight scholarship offers. He goes first to Syracuse University, where he meets a young woman who is hiding from the world and goes to ground with her—fortified by two boxes of Oreos and an economics text full of “incoherent doctrines.” At Penn State the next fall, Gary succumbs to angst and retreats, this time to an Adirondack winter at home. Gary’s next sojourn is at Miami, where all goes well until he becomes obsessed with the horrifying accounts of nuclear war that he finds in a textbook. Depression sends him home again, waiting out the year before moving on to Michigan State as an “aging recruit.” When he and two other players hit an Indiana safety man so hard that he dies the next day, Gary gives up once more and stays in his room for seven weeks, shuffling a deck of cards.

Therefore, Logos College is Gary’s final chance. At Logos, he finds himself playing for Coach Emmett Creed, who says of football, “It’s only a game, but it’s the only game.” Gary’s teammates are a colorful lot, notably Taft Robinson and Anatole Bloomberg. Taft is a transfer student from Columbia University, the first black student at Logos. He is brilliant in the classroom as well as on the football field, but he eventually gives up on football. Taft reads books about the Holocaust and ponders his claim that Rembrandt van Rijn and Johann Sebastian Bach had Masai blood in their veins. Taft is another DeLillo loner in retreat from the madness of the...

(The entire section is 918 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

End Zone presents little plot but a lot of vivid characterization and zany but sparkling dialogue. What story there is follows Gary Harkness, the narrator, through the fall and winter of his first year at Logos College in west Texas. The president of the school is Mrs. Tom Wade, the founder’s widow. Mrs. Tom, as the players call her, dies in the crash of a light plane. The football coach at Logos is Emmett Creed, whose vision of life is clear: “It’s only a game,” he said, “but it’s the only game.”

The story opens with the news that Taft Robinson, a talented running back, is transferring to Logos from Columbia. He will be the school’s first black student. His recruitment is part of the strategy of the brilliant Coach Creed, and his presence on the squad is catalytic. Taft makes Logos a powerful team, with only one real challenge in its conference, West Centrex Biotechnical Institute. Most of part 1 is devoted to entertaining talk about football and preparation for the big contest with Centrex.

In the background of Gary’s love of football is his preoccupation with nuclear war and devastation. He becomes a regular auditor of Major Staley’s course in aspects of modern warfare, and he even drops by the major’s motel room to converse about warheads and casualty estimates. For Major Staley, the topic verges on metaphysics. He expounds to Gary at length: “There’s a kind of theology at work here. The bombs are a kind of god. As his power grows, our fear naturally increases.” Gary is absorbed in these talks. After one evening with the major, he thinks long, long...

(The entire section is 659 words.)