Joe Flaherty

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 441

[In The Dream Team, Joe McGinniss] has chosen the world of the racetrack as his motif. When the muses are calling the parade to post, he sprints along at a pretty snappy pace. When he deals with the problems of a successful writer whose career and marriage are collapsing, the going gets as sloppy as a rainy Wednesday at Aqueduct.

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The book opens with a prologue concerning two young men who are planning a tour of Southern tracks. The narrator-hero (later to become the best-selling author) goes back in time and convincingly documents his love for the ponies…. So far, so good. The reader gets a hint he might be in for one of those hardboiled treats James M. Cain used to serve up….

The story now shifts abruptly to a Saturday in San Francisco. The writer is there on tour—plugging his best seller with his bankroll soaring but his soul descending. He forms a three-person parlay with an aspiring female journalist named Jennifer and a talk-show host, Barnaby Blaine. Barnaby's real avocation is touting horses, with enough paraphernalia to make the Rand Corporation envious. (p. 34)

Jennifer is one of those dismally platitudinous love-children who seem to be serving as beacons for disgruntled older men in literature these days. (pp. 34-5)

The book starts moving again after the trio head for Hialeah. McGinniss builds a surrogate father-son relationship between Blaine and the writer, with the counterpoint of the gambler as a computer and the compulsive romantic.

Blaine is by far the best and most haunted character in the book, and one is jealous of the space denied him and devoted to the insipid Jennifer….

When McGinniss writes about horses or describes tracks, races and jockeys' techniques, he is right on the money. But, sadly, you realize he doesn't really give a damn about Jennifer and the writer's woes; because, if he did, there couldn't be such disparity in the prose style. The other stuff has been added like fruit to a drink at the Fontainebleau, for sheer decoration. It serves the same purpose—to dilute the kick.

In the end, Blaine's betting system fails, and he returns to San Francisco. Jennifer floats off to spread her pollen among the more deserving, and the writer breaks even for the meet and returns to his shadowy wife. It seems as if Samuel Beckett is the chart caller for the human race: nobody really moves. And a novel that could have gone the distance winds up distressingly, in a series of disconnected but impressive sprints. (p. 35)

Joe Flaherty, "A Betting System that Failed," in The New York Times Book Review, April 30, 1972, pp. 34-5.

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