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Book Notes

December 30, 2010

Book Notes: Deford's latest work tells a 'wonderful story'

How often have you read a spell-bounding novel that leaves you disappointed in the end? With some novelists such as Nicholas Sparks and Stuart Woods it can be expected.

With a writer such as Frank Deford, not as prolific but just as engaging, you can become so enraptured that you find yourself anticipating the “perfect” ending. Anything less and you feel a tinge of disappointment.

Let me first say that Deford is an outstanding writer. He writes with such elegance that his pen sometimes seems like the equivalent of Van Gogh’s brush. He has written for Sports Illustrated for many years, and has penned several successful novels covering such diverse topics as football and World War II.

His latest effort is called “Bliss, Remembered.’’ It’s a wonderful story of a smalltown girl from Maryland who manages to qualify for the 1936 U.S. Olympic swim team in Berlin. While she is there she meets a young German with whom she falls in love.

Because the story is told in flashback and she later marries someone else you naturally assume the love affair is over.

But the curiosity factor (and the writing) keeps you from putting the book down.

Deford mixes in several reallife figures into his novel, especially when the action turns to Germany. Two major figures who appear are the great American swimmer, Eleanor Holm (who I admit I had not heard of before), and Hitler’s prized Olympic filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl (who I had).

Other well-known historical figures make cameo appearances, including American Olympic Committee president Avery Brundage, who is every bit the arrogant tyrant he is portrayed to be.

When the girl, Sydney, returns to the United States after the Olympics she and Horst (her German lover) continue to correspond, but circumstances (i.e., the war) eventually make it obvious their affair cannot last. Sydney soon meets her future husband Jimmy (who she rejects at first because she’s still hung up on Horst), and once she falls for him you figure that the German is history.

However, the story begins to take some unexpected turns and the drama just keeps ratcheting up. There are plot twists I don’t see coming, and they simply make the book that much more exciting.

I keep wondering how Deford will tie it all together in the end.

It is as the story reaches its climax that it suddenly turns flat. It is basically because events occur that just seem too over-the-top. Sydney’s actions and behavior just don’t seem believable. It takes some of the luster out of what is otherwise a top-notch read.

Despite the disappointing ending I would still highly recommend the book because there is just too much good about it.

The descriptions of the depression, New York City, the historic figures of the time, competitive swimming in the 1930s, the propaganda of the Nazis, and the Olympic Games themselves offer a great education on an important era in our nation’s history. Surrounding it with a beautiful love story just adds a flourish to Deford’s work.

DAVID KENT is the Cooperstown Village Librarian.

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