Friday, February 5, 2016

January reading

Only two books, which was a disappointment, but I did get a lot more writing and blogging done last month, so that's where a lot of my time went. Plus it gives me the chance to really expand on my review of the one of the books, because it warrants it.

LA Late @ Night: 5 Noir & Mystery Tales From the Dark Streets of Los Angeles by Paul D. Marks
This small collection of L.A. based tales from Shamus Award winning author Marks packs a neo-noir punch. A successful defense attorney gets a pang of conscience after getting a famous director off on a murder charge. A young man new to town is lured into murder by an enigmatic woman. Lots of raw emotions and nostalgic, frustrated cops old enough to remember Los Angeles in the "good old days", before crime and criminals got out of even their control. A number of characters and locations are intertwined in the stories, and Marks knows the late-night streets and dark sides of the City of Angels like the back of his hand. The collection also includes the first chapter of Marks's Shamus-winning novel White Heat, which is set in 1992 during the Rodney King riots.

"Icy steel from my backup gun pinches my ankle. I never go anywhere without some kind of weapon. Hey, man, this is L.A. and it's not the L.A. I grew up in. You never know when you'll have to draw on someone. But if you do, you're fucked. Because in this AliceInWonderlandWorld up is down, right is wrong. And the bad guys win. Still, it's better to be judged by twelve than carried by six, my training officer told me all those years ago."

Breaking Away: The Harrowing True Story of Resilience, Courage and Triumph by Patrick O'Sullivan with Gare Joyce
Harrowing is right. There are awful parents pushing their kids beyond reason in order to realize their own unattained dreams, and then there's John O'Sullivan. Breaking Away is the memoir of former NHL player Patrick O'Sullivan, whose father bullied him into being the successful hockey player O'Sullivan Sr. never was. And bullied in every sense of the word, physically, mentally and emotionally. John O'Sullivan beat the crap out of his son and terrorized him for years in his single minded pursuit of on-ice stardom, until Patrick finally took his final beating and walked away not only from his dad, but eventually from his entire, enabling family as well.

O'Sullivan's dad being a problem child is old news to the hockey world, but I don't think many realized just how bad it was until this book came out recently. John's actions were abuse, plain and simple, and it's mind-boggling to me that Patrick - even as a young child - was subjected to this treatment and no one, not even family members, ever stepped up in his defense.

Once he realized that his son possessed a significant amount of athletic ability, John became obsessed with engineering Patrick into an NHL player. He saw himself as a Walter Gretzky-type, only without any sense or concern of what he was doing to his son and by extension, his whole family. His "training regime" for Patrick included waking him up in the middle of the night to work out, kicking him out of the van on the way home after a game to make him run, and overfeeding him in an effort to get him to grow to an NHL-caliber size, and that's just barely scratching the surface.

One thing that really shocked me was the abuse he took from then-head coach Marc Crawford during his time with the Los Angeles Kings. Crawford seems to have singled O'Sullivan out as his whipping boy for reasons that only he knew. I can't help wondering why General Manager Dean Lombardi - known for his high regard of his players - didn't step in, especially since everyone knew O'Sullivan's history.

O'Sullivan isn't sure if a contract dispute affected his standing with the Kings front office, but the fact was that shortly after the deal was signed and Crawford was canned, Lombardi shipped him to the Edmonton Oilers in a three-way deal that brought the Kings Justin Williams from the Carolina Hurricanes. Williams would eventually be a big piece of the Kings teams that won the Stanley Cup in 2012 and 2014, but O'Sullivan wonders - as do I - if Lombardi could have and would have gotten Williams for a different player or players, if it weren't for the contract dispute. It might have been interesting to see what he could have done in L.A. long term.

Being traded was only part the problem. It was who he was traded to. Edmonton, for the past ten years or so, is where hockey careers go to die. As an organization, the Oilers just don't seem to be able to get their shit together, and it was the beginning of the end of O'Sullivan's NHL career. O'Sullivan reveals a couple issues he had with the team that help explain the Oilers woes. The team promptly used him in roles he had never played in his entire hockey career (third line, five-on-three penalty kill); he says he was tempted to ask them if they'd confused him with another player. Then they started making him a healthy scratch. To add insult to injury, Edmonton's arena, Rexall Place, is the only one in the league that doesn't provide private elevators for the scratches to ride up to the press box. They had to walk through the concourse, in full view of fans. Edmonton is getting a new arena, hopefully they remedied this situation, but that's indicative of the type of organization O'Sullivan found himself at the mercy of.

Another shock came when O'Sullivan and his fiancee decided to go over his finances, which were soon to become their finances. He was shocked to discover that over a period less than four NHL seasons, he had given his mother, who had finally divorced his father, $400,000 and yet she didn't seem inclined to do much with her life, nor did she seem to care that her two daughters, both younger than Patrick, seemed equally uninspired. After letting his mom know that the gravy train was coming to a halt (he was more tactful about it) she suddenly stopped taking his calls or communicating with him at all. He figured it would work out, but then wedding invitations and Christmas gifts sent to his mother and sisters were returned unopened. He hasn't had any contact with them since.

The only negative criticism I can offer is that there are several instances of dropped words in the text. Not sure how these weren't caught during editing, but they were numerous enough to be noticeable.

That O'Sullivan has managed to attain peace and a normal family life of his own is remarkable, but it seems like some scars remain. In the caption of a photo of O'Sullivan helping his young son hold a golf club, he says of his kids, "If they choose to play sports, I hope it's something other than hockey." That would apparently just hit a little too close to home, and that left me with a twinge of sadness despite his triumphing over the hellish life his monstrous father subjected him to.

"Two years before I had been a twenty-goal scorer playing on a second line for an emerging team. But no one remembered that after the season in Edmonton. The team was a mess, the worst in the league, and I was a healthy scratch. People would put it together: if he can't play for Edmonton, who can he play for?"

No comments: