Joe McGinniss Christopher Lehmann-Haupt - Essay

Christopher Lehmann-Haupt

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The message of Joe McGinniss's first novel, "The Dream Team," is to stay away from fast women and slow horses, but the message isn't what matters here. What matters here is how Mr. McGinniss succeeds in holding our interest through a six-day binge in Miami while old Barnaby tries to handicap the horses at Hialeah, while young Jennifer tries to clutch life to her breast and while the young narrator of their adventures tries to enjoy the fruits of both activities.

The young narrator of "The Dream Team" is an author on tour promoting his best-selling book, while his wife and children languish back home in the East. Though his story is a fantasy, we might as well think of him as Joe promoting his first book, "The Selling of the President." In San Francisco, near the end of his tour, Joe meets up with Barnaby and Jennifer….

On the spur of an evening of heavy drinking, the three suddenly decide to fly to Miami to take the weather, test Barnaby's system at Hialeah, touch each other, and taste a little bliss. The Dream Team of Mr. McGinniss's title may appear to be "a collection of the smartest, prettiest girl reporters in the country" that Jennifer has ambitions to join, but we know who it really is, as it wings its way into the Florida sun.

But as it wings it way into the Florida sun, Joe gets airsick. When it arrives in Miami, the rain begins to fall…. Bit by bit, the pressure mounts, tempers turn edgy, the money trickles away, and the dream turns into alcohol and torn-up pari-mutuel tickets.

What it finally all comes down to is Joie de Vivre in the Flamingo Stakes, with an erratic apprentice-jockey up. Should Joe plunge to recoup his losses, or should he fold his tens and silently steal away? I won't reveal how Mr. McGinniss ends his horse race and his yarn, but it is a bittersweet conclusion to a compelling few hours of reading. And it all goes to show that a little corn isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, "Picking Brains and Race Horses," in The New York Times, May 9, 1972, p. 39.