Puck Is a Four Letter Word
C. Stephen Gray is Director of Information Services, Institute of
Chartered Accountants of Ontario.
Anyone who is familiar with Frank Orr’s hockey coverage in the sports pages of the Toronto Star knows that Orr is a knowledgeable hockey man. His accurate and often insightful game summaries and background stories are well written and usually worth reading. With a few general qualifications, the same praise can be applied to his novel, Puck Is a Four Letter Word. The book is the comic story of the dismal first season of a fictitious NHL expansion team, the Cleveland Big Green, a sad-sack collection of minor leaguers, rookies, veterans, and several untried Europeans. The team is soon the joke of the NHL, because of the unfair expansion franchise terms its owners were given and because of their inexperience in running a big-league sports franchise.
The team has only two quality players (their teams left them unprotected in the draft because of their involvement in the Players’ Association), and they are the novel’s main characters. One of them, Willie Mulligan, is the narrator. The novel’s centre is Willie — himself a centre on the team — and the plot reaches its climax when the Big Green is signed up for an exhibition match with the USSR’s national team, the best team in the world at the time. The outcome is predictable but quite funny nevertheless.
With the exception of three or four women in the book, the female stereotyping is shocking, just as there are no doubt those who are not ready for the frequent locker-room language in the book; it is jock-talk, and no mistake. But despite some problems with the narrator (he is too articulate and perceptive) and with the copy-editing (the apostrophe is consistently misused), this is an enjoyable, entertaining novel.
Because it relies on game write-ups by the main character, the book reads in parts much like an Orr sports story. With the added freedom of a novel, however, comes an opportunity for Orr to lampoon many of the NHL’s sacred cows, expose its smarmy hucksters, and vilify its seedy politics while simultaneously giving the reader an excellent feeling for what the nomadic existence of a pro athlete must be like. These are not rhetorical opportunities that are offered to everyone, so it is pleasing to be able to say that Frank Orr has made good use of them. The novel contains almost as many satiric potshots as it does slapshots; the combination makes for an entertaining barrage.