Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Duke for All Seasons

Tunis, John. Iron Duke. Harcourt, 1938.

Iron Duke is possibly my favourite of all Tunis' novels, and the one that I would recommend, in particular, for first-time readers of this great sports novelist. Like, in particular, Champion's Choice, Iron Duke is a novel about much more than sports, and its protagonist is caught up in a balancing act of life and loyalties that make the novel, at its heart, a study of humanity and choice.

Protagonist Jim Wellington is a small-town boy whose hard work in high school pays off with an acceptance to Harvard College, where he dreams of playing varsity football and following in his father's footsteps. Once in Boston, however, he finds that the university life he imagined is more difficult to obtain than he could have known, and he struggles to survive in athletics and, soon, to stay ahead in academics.

Jim--soon nicknamed "The Duke"--eventually makes two friends, "McGuire" and the posh "Fog," whose exploits get him into trouble from time to time but also provide him with the encouragement he needs to persevere in the face of disappointments and frustrations. The adventures of the three men, eventually known as the "Dunster Funsters," provide the novel with some lighthearted humour, but the friendship that develops over the course of the novel is thoughtfully composed and presents a strong underlying support for the more lighthearted and athletic scenes that make this book so remarkable and readable.

As this is one of my favourite books of all time, it would be difficult to award the "monthly favourite" title to any of the other excellent volumes enjoyed this month. Although currently out of print, this excellent book is a must-read, and well worth a trip to the library or a used bookstore.

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