Friday Night Lights: a Town, a Team and a Dream.

Posted: April 17, 2013 in Words
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friday-night-lights coverFriday Night Lights – A Town, A Team and A Dream is the first non-fiction novel I have read since one of my creative writing classes at University included In Cold Blood by Truman Capote as part of the required reading. I read the newspaper, magazines and the occasional biography, but non-fiction novels have never been something I’ve really taken an interest in. I thoroughly enjoyed In Cold Blood, with all of its twists and turns, but I can’t say it gave me a desire to delve further into the genre. In fact the only other non-fiction novel I have ever found myself really wanting to read, was Friday Night Lights. Now, finally, I have.

Friday Night Lights, written by H.G Bissinger and published in 1990, follows the story of the 1988 Permian High School Panthers football team from Odessa, Texas. Odessa was chosen by Bissinger as a representative of football-crazed, small-town America and he intended for the story to be a chronicle of high school sports holding a small town together. Bissinger moved his family to Odessa and spent the entire 1988 football season with the players, their families, the coaching staff and many of the townspeople in an effort to understand the football culture within the town. What resulted, though, was a very different type of story. The book ended up being critical of life in the town of Odessa – which, no doubt, also reflected many other towns across America – complete with racism and questionable priorities, where academics were ignored for the sake of having the best possible shot at winning championships, and football conquered most aspects of the town. It is a raw and gripping tale of teenagers forced to become men, to make decisions and sacrifices beyond their years, who were treated as royalty and worshipped like gods around town so long as they kept on winning; boys who couldn’t see past high school football, which for some had dire consequences once the season was over and they had to face up to what came next.     

I saw the film adaptation when it came out in 2004 and found the story emotional and fascinating. I knew that it was based on a book but I was 16 and didn’t have a huge interest in reading it. Fast-forward eight years or so when I saw a special on television where they had interviewed some of the key players in the story twenty years later and I knew that it was time to get my hands on the book.
Even though I already knew what the story was about before I read it, it definitely wasn’t an easy read. The film – like all book to film adaptations I suppose – left out a considerable amount of the story, including some of the most emotionally heavy scenes and interviews from that year. I knew there would be more in the book, but I didn’t expect there to be so much more. There were integral parts of what happened during that 1988 season that were left out of the film completely, which actually changed the story a fair amount. But the book to film adaptation argument is for another day.
Back to the book.

Bissinger told the story in a way that really appealed to me: setting it up in the prologue and introducing the central players, then going back to the beginning and outlining the history of Odessa and then telling the story of the 1988 season from start to finish. Chapters and part-chapters were dedicated to different players, focussing on the person or people most relevant to each stage of the story. He wrote in such a way that it reads like fiction and I found it so compelling that it was, at times, hard to believe that it all really happened. I can only imagine how much time and work it took to get into the players (and other prominent people’s) heads and write them as well as characters you would make up in a fictional story.

Not to be too critical, but it did get a little repetitive at times. There were a couple of instances where the same thing was said consecutively in a chapter, just worded differently. It’s something that I noticed, which is why I am mentioning it, but it didn’t take away from the story, or the quality of the writing as a whole, in any way. Considering that it jumped around a bit to include as much relevant and important information as possible, it still flows smoothly from subject to subject and chapter to chapter. For whatever reason there were parts of the story that really resonated with me, particularly chapter seven and every part of the story that brought light to how bad racism still was in Texas at that time and how the people dealt with it. It’s a horrible part of history to be fascinated by, but as someone who has grown up to believe that people are people and that’s that, I am intrigued by how the colour of a person’s skin made society view them differently. Bissinger highlighted the racism only because it was relevant and he wrote it very diplomatically, which can’t have been easy.

As always, I have my favourite quotes, but I’m only going to share two.

“…the solemn ritual that was attached to almost everything, made them seem like boys going off to fight a war for the benefit of someone else, unwitting sacrifices to a strange and powerful god” (prologue, p.11).

“He sat on the bench and felt a coldness swirl through him, as if something sacred inside him was dying, as if every dream in his life was fleeing from him and all he could do was sit there and watch it disappear amid all those roars that had once been for him” (Boobie Miles, p.16).

  1. I might have to check this book out now, Loved the movie and the TV series of the same name as well.

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