Friday Night Lights, by Buzz Bissinger
Having previously read After Friday Night Lights, I felt compelled by Bissinger’s years-after revisiting of Permian High School’s might-have-been superstar, Boobie Miles, and Odessa, Texas’, obsession with high school football, to read the original eighties version. Bissinger is a Pulitzer winning writer, who went to live in Odessa for a year, and who immersed himself in the culture of West Texas and those folks’ fascination with high school football.
But Bissinger doesn’t just portray the pluck of the smaller, lesser talented football teams there; he explores West Texas’ history, its boom-and-bust oil economy, the roots of racism and double standards that cling stubbornly to the culture of the U.S.’s South and Southwest. Still, at the core of Bissinger’s story is the odyssey of one of Permian High’s football seasons – a season that began with great promise – until Boobie Miles was irreparably hurt – toward the holy grail of Texas high school football, the state championship.
The author intermixes this journey with long gazes into the lives of the players, their parents, former Permian football players, and just plain fans of the team. Underlying all this is the reason for the overdone passion for football: that area of Texas has had little else to take its collective mind from the isolation there, the struggle of its citizens to make a living in that barren land.
As a result, Friday Night Lights is more than the story of a football team; it’s the story of West Texas life and how the modern world has all but passed this wasteland by. Bissinger writes with insight; he perceives all too accurately the problems of life in West Texas, despite its denizens’ myopic view of their plight. The book entertains and it informs as well. As such, it’s one of the best pieces of writing yet on the American experiment; right up there with the writings of de Tocqueville.
My rating: 18 of 20 stars