Social Concerns / Themes
Victories, according to its blurb, is the "companion novel" to Trust. The relationship between the two is peculiar: both are set in the same period (fall-winter 1967 to 1968); significant characters appear in both novels; and the plots overlap in minor ways; yet each is an autonomous work. Victories is not a sequel to Trust.
Trust focuses upon the experience of Earl Beale, another example of Higgins's patented type, the loquacious grifter. Earl is a college basketball player who was caught and imprisoned for fixing games. Now, in late 1967, Earl sells used cars and schemes to exploit his girlfriend's sometime occupation as a rich man's mistress. Returning a favor for someone who has done him a favor, he also gets involved in a scheme to protect a philandering judge by stealing and destroying the judge's Mercedes. Both schemes go awry: Earl has sufficient street smarts to sell used cars (and to cheat the dealer), but he lacks the larger vision to execute his grand schemes. He ends the novel in prison; Penny, his sharp girlfriend, and Allen Simmons, her sharp and wealthy lover, both end the novel undamaged.
Trust thus provides a fine illustration of Higgins's ability to produce authentic depictions of the language and the worldviews of men like Earl Beale; it also illustrates his more recent interest in the habits of the privileged. Allen Simmons plays a small, but significant role in the novel. The main theme is declared in the title: Trust. Simmons trusts his wife, his mistress, his lawyer, his company's security men; he occupies a commanding position in society, and, justifiably, he trusts the system to preserve that position. Car buyers, his brother, the motel owner, Penny all unwisely trust Earl; Earl unwisely trusts no one, always seeking to gain the slight or the large advantage offered by deception. And there are other sorts of loyalties and betrayals in the novel. The variations on this theme make Trust a satisfying and coherent novel.
Victories is less satisfying. The main character here is Henry Briggs, a relief pitcher who has returned to small town Vermont after almost fifteen years in the major leagues. Henry is a decent guy; he is unhappy with his wife and his son (and happy with his daughter); he makes an honest living as a game warden. The main action concerns the efforts of Ed Cobb, Democratic Speaker of the Vermont Assembly, and Don Beale, a Vermont car dealer, to get Briggs into the 1968 race for U.S. Representative. Getting him to run occupies the entire novel. A few sentences in the final chapter (dated 1989) reveal that Briggs did win the election when the incumbent died on election eve; that he was re-elected to ten more terms, finally retiring to reap the rewards of his unspent campaign funds; that he married the beautiful, wealthy woman who appeared briefly when she adopted his candidacy as a project to invest herself in. Although individual episodes demonstrate that Higgins's art of authenticity works in rural Vermont as well as in Boston or Providence, the action of Victories seems insufficient and improbable.
Once again, the title implies the central theme. The issue of victory, and of the teamwork behind it, connects Henry Briggs the ex-pitcher (with a 122-68 lifetime record) and Henry the would-be politician. (Set in the interval between these two careers, the novel never actually presents the pitcher or the politician.) Victory means one thing to the twenty-eight year Republican incumbent, a crusty, parsimonious old Vermonter, and something else to the Vermont Assembly speaker who aims to build a Democratic machine, or to the Boston political consultant who cannot afford a loss on his record, or to the down-home voters of Vermont's second congressional district.
The election in Victories turns more on personality than upon ideology; Higgins's long-standing interest in politics has always focused more upon the nature of personal exercise of power (and upon the effects of power upon the personality) than upon issues. But although Henry Briggs expresses no strong convictions about the Vietnam War, the war appears in the background of both novels; indeed, both end with the deaths of young men in Vietnam.