Veteran sportswriter Dan Jenkins’ 12th novel not up to his previous standards

Dan Jenkins is a legend in the world of sports writing, particularly in the world of golf. He has covered just about every type of sports event there is, from curling to downhill skiing, in a career that spans over 60 years. He has written for publications ranging from his high school newspaper to Sports Illustrated and Playboy for whom he wrote a regular column on golf in the 1980s).
Jenkins has penned nine non-fiction books and eleven novels preceding his latest effort, Stick A Fork In Me, including the phenomenally successful pro-football-based Semi-Tough, the book (and movie) which, according to Jenkins, “Paid for the house on Maui.” His latest book, and twelfth novel, Stick A Fork In Me is not, however, up to his earlier, brilliant standards.
Reading Jenkins’ work inspired my interest in the game of golf, and later, in sports writing. The father of a friend of mine suggested that I read Jenkins’ 1974 golf novel Dead Solid Perfect, with the admonition that I shouldn’t read it anyplace where I would feel self-conscious about laughing out loud. Though I had little experience with golf at the time that book hooked me on Jenkins’ work, and I have been a fan ever since.
That being said, I am certainly conscious of some of the weaknesses in his work. His characters tend to conform to certain stereotypes – to the extent that they are sometimes doppelgangers not only of each other, but of Dan himself. A number of his lead characters have been natives of Fort Worth, Texas, like Dan, involved in sports (well, naturally…), like Dan, went to the same high school (Paschal) and college (Texas Christian University) that he did, and display, through their dialogue, attitudes and opinions that mirror his own.
After a while, this takes on the aspect of a one-trick pony, and in Stick A Fork In Me this tendency comes to a head. The main character, Pete Wallace, is the athletic director (OK, that’s a new direction for Dan) of a fictional Ohio university who was born and raised in West Texas (like Dan…). Throughout the novel Pete encounters dunderheaded coaches, self-entitled student-athletes, ignorant college administrators, and “left-wing wacko” faculty – and a young, smart, wisecracking, drop-dead gorgeous female AAD with whom he is not having an affair (nudge, nudge, wink, wink…). He also has to deal with a social-climbing golf-nut wife, which is a bit of a new twist – at least the “golf-nut” part, because in Dan’s world wives usually hate golf…
Without giving any really salient plot points away I can say that we’ve pretty much heard this all before from the old master, and usually done much better. His most recent previous novel, a golf-themed story about a hot (in every sense of the word) young LPGA golfer, entitled The Franchise Babe, was a bit of a retread, but making the athlete a young woman at least showed some stretch.
His last two books before Stick A Fork In Me were non-fiction – his autobiography, His Ownself, and a collection of columns and some new work entitled Unplayable Lies. Both of these non-fiction works were great reads, and should, by rights, have comprised his swan song. Stick A Fork In Me is a weak, retread effort from a master who has slipped from the pinnacle of his best work. As a fan of his work, I was happy to see another title over his name cross my desk, but it turned out to be a disappointing effort that gives his legacy an unfortunate downturn near the end of his career.

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