Review: The Second Half: A Gay American Football Story by Scott D. Pomfret

Division I college football coach Peyton Stone has a secret. It’s not so much that he’s gay. It’s that he’s fallen in love with his older Iraq-War-vet-turned-starting-QB Brady Winter. Willing to deny himself for the sake of the Golden Eagles football team, Peyton focuses helping his team score touchdowns, but when he discovers the attraction is mutual, he jumps in with both feet.

For each, the stakes are high: bowls, limelight, press, and the NFL. But Peyton and Brady find time during the season to carve out their own private and sexy refuge. Only jealous whispers force the head coach to see what he didn’t want to see and he tears the two apart. It’s only when Brady’s war injuries threaten his health that Peyton reluctantly returns to the team -- under cover! The two concoct a plan to pass off Peyton as Brady at the bowl game, thereby preserving Brady’s health and perhaps earning a national championship. Will anyone notice the difference? Does anyone really want to? Most of all, can the pair’s sense of honor outlast the deception?

I sat on this review so I wouldn't knee jerk rate it and I will say it certainly elicited a response, even a couple days later and I can still get fussy over it. I considered DNFing, but sheer stubbornness is my only excuse for not throwing the towel in. I wanted to find out where this was going, what the point or the message or whatever was.

I developed a few working hypotheses: 

(1) a platform to sound off on how homophobic sports are; 
(2) a platform to showcase how narrow-minded athletes can be; 
(3) a reminder of how everyday life is a shitshow that we all have to endure.

I bet you're asking why 1.5 Hearts then. One word-Peyton. Let me introduce you to the center of the universe, Peyton Stone, our protagonist and narrator. Peyton started off a pill and ended up a pill, so he gets a half heart for consistency. 

Peyton is an ex-football standout turned coach and the most unpleasant person I've had the misfortune of reading about in quite some time. He's morose, pessimistic, negativistic, narcissistic, insecure, melodramatic and maudlin. He calls his own mother white trash, fat shames people, and is the most homophobic gay man I think I've ever read. I can almost forgive his becoming irrationally obsessed with men at the drop of a hat until he starts making every action in the known universe about him or takes it upon himself to out people, people that he supposedly cares about. Then all bets are off.

Actually, I'm not being completely fair to Peyton here; the entire tone of the book is pessimistic, cynical and divisive. There seemed to be an underlying agenda of 'us vs. them' (gay vs. straight) that grated. I'm well aware there is a pervasive DADT in athletics. Just look at the clusterfuck that was the 2016 combine, but I also know there have been, are and will continue to be elite gay athletes and the way they play their sport cannot be differentiated based upon their sexuality. 

Most of the characters are petty and caricaturist. They're perpetually sniping at one another or just throwing shade for seemingly no other reason than because reasons. They're all flat and it seemed like they were trying too hard to be the evilest motherfucker you've ever met. These jokers shame Peyton for being a bottom which I find inherently misogynistic. Others seem to have a personal grudge against him for being a semi-closeted and are actively seeking to sabotage him, but all of this is told through the subjective and, in my opinion, skewed perspective of Peyton.

Peyton's internal monologues would make Freud scratch his head. Anyone that can make his boyfriend's injury a two and half page diatribe filled with his weird metaphors on how he somehow caused it when there's absolutely no way that could be true needs a therapist and a life coach and maybe the Dalai Lama.

I probably could've overlooked a portion of this were the story engaging, but it was the most preposterous, absurd sports themed book ever. I'm not even going to go into how absurd. I don't claim to be an expert on any sport. I have a cursory knowledge of many and hefty amount on a few, football being one of them. I didn't expect perfection. I did expect realism. The play calling and game time scenarios were realistic, but X's and O's are not the stuff of a great sports story.

What makes a great sports story is the camaraderie in the locker room, jibing amongst the players and coaches-the ribbing, joking, pranks and even that dude everyone hates. The logistics of the game are secondary to the story until the end wherein the game is won or lost, but everyone's learned that being part of the team is what matters most. But... it's still pretty great to win. 

What I got was...

You can't give me 280 pgs of shitshow melodramatics and hackneyed villainy then tack on a "love conquers all" HEA and expect me to believe it. Firstly, these characters have no chemistry. Secondly, there's no relationship development to speak of. Thirdly, with Peyton's epic level of pillness there is no way I can believe that he's miraculously changed his tune and will be capable of sustaining a relationship without torpedoing it inside of a month. I'd have much easier believed that Brady decided to run him over with a truck and steal his dog to run off and join the circus.

The writing style wasn't to my liking either. I found it choppy, littered with bizarre metaphors and cockamamie tangents. It lacked emotional content, development in characterization and relationship and it missed the mark in capturing what I enjoy most about sports. 

I would recommend this book to people who regularly enjoy punching their ticket to the Theater of the Ridiculous.

A review copy was provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

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