I won Rules for Becoming a Legend: A Novel in exchange for writing a review.
This is a miraculous book. It tells the story of Jimmy Kirkus, a young basketball player, who, in the first chapter, runs repeatedly into a brick wall in his high school gym, hitting the bricks head on, until he collapses in a pool of blood. Miraculously, he survives this and is released from the hospital in a few days, and his life, the life of his father and grandfather, and the life of the community change forever. Frankly, I couldn't believe he could survive this, but he does. That is the gist of the story. I cannot reveal more without spoiling the tale.
The story is told from three perspectives - Jimmy, his father, and his grandfather, each of whom are legends in their own minds and in their own right. The book alternates between "the crash" and the days preceding it, and the past, which tells the story of Jimmy and his father and grandfather, enabling the reader to learn the history of the Kirkus family. Some readers might find this confusing, but I found it fascinating - alternating between the present, the past, the immediate past, and the perspectives of the three generations of this family provides remarkable insight into family and societal relations and dynamics and a lot of food for thought. Each generation of Kirkus males has his own story, and that story informs the stories of the other Kirkus men.
A small but unifying theme that runs through these individual stories is "the yips," a state of nervous tension affecting an athlete in the performance of a crucial action, which afflict all the Kirkus males in one way or another. The "yips," I learned when I researched the subject, may be an anxiety disorder or it may be a neurological disorder known as focal dystonia. This is important, because we learn as the story progresses, that Jimmy, as a child, was a natural basketball whiz, but when he starts playing basketball in high school, although he starts out as a winner, his game deteriorates so badly that the community says he suffers from the yips. However, after he bashes his head into the brick wall, the yips disappear as mysteriously as they appeared - does Jimmy have focal dystonia? Did his head injuries cure it? Am I on the right track?
I don't know, and that is one of the most compelling features of this story - you have to read between the lines and ask yourself what is the "fiction" of these people's lives, and what is the "fact?"
I find the title very telling as well. Jimmy and his father and grandfather want to be legends, and what happens to them in this quest can either be defined as success or devastating disappointment. I found myself thinking about my own life in terms of what stories I tell myself, what stories I tell to friends, what stories I tell to my family, and realized that "a legend" is what we make of it for ourselves. And of course, this is the eternal question: what are the facts of our own lives and what are the stories we tell ourselves and each other who we are? So much of memory is a collage. So many of the stories that we think make up the quilt of our lives are stories that other people have told us. And so much of the life of Jimmy Kirkus is told through the stories that other people tell us about him.
The story is essentially an allegory about success and failure. You will either love it, as I do, or you will find it so confusing you set it aside. I urge any reader to stick with it, because it is ultimately very rewarding.