The year is 2020. The United States has become a political correctness machine, where individuals are no longer defined by their intellect or achievements, but purely by their race and gender.
An important moment is about to take place in the sports world: a woman is going to play in the Super Bowl, and it is an introduction to the banning of all-male sports teams.
Enter Jayesh Blackstone, an American football player born in England. Due to his looks and heritage, (he’s half Indian) he is chosen to assist the woman with the field goal kick.
Jayesh immediately has doubts—won’t this chick be brutalized in seconds against large, trained men? Shouldn’t she play in a women’s league where the competition is fair?
But various government agents have made it clear that Jayesh has no choice in the matter.
A harsh warning arrives, declaring that his failure to comply with the plan will result in the deaths of many, including his loved ones. As it turns out, the Super Bowl serves only as a springboard for a series of unexpected events: Jayesh soon finds himself immersed in a world of assassination plots, terrorist organizations and evil dictators.
This is the world created in the novel “The Kicker of St. John’s Wood” by Gary Wolf, an author who describes his literary mission as “updating Orwell for the era of political correctness.”
And update Orwell he does, down to the satirically named government institutions. Jayesh’s friend Sam is held prisoner at the World Tribunal for Peace and Justice, the Super Bowl is played at the Equal Rights Dome, and the evil villains are representatives from UNSAINE, the United Nations Special Advisory Institute on National Expropriation.
“The Kicker” has all of the ideas and atmosphere one would expect to find in a George Orwell novel: a dystopic future with lone individuals fighting for freedom and individuality. And, of course, an oppressive government, seizing control of every corner of people’s lives “for their own good.”
However, The Kicker hits much closer to home than many Orwell novels. We see the influence of political correctness every day, and the extremes it reaches in 2020 don’t seem that far-fetched if one considers its current path.
Perhaps it is this sense of reality, this feeling that we are being warned, which sucks readers in from the very first page. Its energetic, fast-paced style captivates readers and entrenches them in the dystopia of the not-so-distant future. The quickly changing action is mimicked in the setting—as events unfold, Jayesh travels from the U.S. to London, Paris, a tiny new country called Sundar Prabhat, then back to London and back to the U.S.
Readers would get tired and jet-lagged from all the travel if Wolf didn’t describe each setting in glistening clarity, zeroing in on small details and atmospheric effects.
Wolf carries this same meticulous attention to his characters, developing them down to their gestures, mannerisms, dress, and expressions. Wolf has clearly examined human activity closely and knows the implications of seemingly meaningless behaviors.
His characterizations also bring a lighthearted air to the adventure. One of the first characters introduced is Marcy Huddlewell, a journalist for the feminist magazine Breast of Iron. After asking Jayesh how it feels to be the first Indian star player in America, Jayesh explains that he wasn’t born in India, that he only even visited once and therefore wouldn’t know how it feels. Huddlewell glares at Jayesh with impatience, and later describes him as “an Asian who fancies himself as an upper-class British snob, a classic white-male wannabe rejecting his Third World roots.”
The bad guys are often displayed in this comical fashion, known to scream like children when things don’t go their way. The good guys, however, are very good—likeable, brave and loyal. Readers immediately fall for Jayesh’s friend Thelonious Brown, an eccentric but thoughtful man who likes to sport fat gold rings and body suits along with his giant Afro.
Regrettably, there are some low points. The love story between Jayesh and his girlfriend Ashley, a writer for feminist magazines such as Breast of Iron and Journal of Matriarchal Pride, is flat and uninteresting.
Ashley transforms from an annoying, fanatic lecturer writing a dissertation on the “contribution of Christian fundamentalism to sexist attitudes in professional sports” to a loving, caring girlfriend too quickly, with no transition except a small fight. It becomes clear that romance is not Wolf’s main interest, as well it shouldn’t be. He is far better at exploring philosophical ideas than describing cheesy couples.
The book’s biggest pitfall, however, is the ending. After scene after scene of action-packed conflict, the story reaches a crescendo of crisis and tension. Yet it is right at this heightened climax that Wolf decides to end the novel.
It would be an appropriate ending to encourage a sequel, as the reader is left on the edge of his seat in anticipation. However, Wolf provides an epilogue written by Jayesh in the year 2027, stating that he has explained everything he needed to, and will leave the rest of his story to be explored by poets and historians.
Readers feel cheated, dumped. How could Wolf leave us like that? We have followed Jayesh and his team for 200 pages and suddenly we are dropped without an explanation, not even an “it’s not you, it’s me.” It’s unsatisfying.
Yet despite the novel’s minor shortcomings, “The Kicker of St. John’s Wood” is still an energetic, thoughtful look at current events and ideologies. The ideas Wolf presents are as real and vital as they are entertaining, and he portrays them in a sophisticated yet readable manner. He spurs readers to think about the deeper implications of diversity and political correctness and wonder how this affects true merit, individuality, and personal freedom.
Although “The Kicker” will be found on the fiction shelves, the novel reads much more like a prophetic warning than an imaginary story. The sense of realism, attention to detail, and lovable characters make “The Kicker” a page-turner, and readers will greedily consume the pages in record time in order to see what will happen next.Contact Mary E. Mueller.