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NOVEMBER 1, 2018
Thank you for joining my blog launch for When The Men Were Gone. The novel rolled out in early October, and I cannot be more pleased with its reception. With that in mind, I’d like to give you additional insight.
I love books and I love movies. I like to think of When the Men Were Gone as a book-movie. We don’t watch twenty minutes of a movie and then return to it a week later. We watch a movie in its entirety, in one sitting, and that was my intention with this novel of just more than 200 pages. From the feedback I’ve received, it appears to, largely, be working out that way, and I’m excited to know that.
But, as with any form of entertainment, there is always more than one side to a story, and that’s the case with When the Men Were Gone. One, my intention was to write an entertaining novel that chronicles, in first person, the story of Tylene Wilson’s journey to becoming the head coach of the Brownwood High School football team during World War II. On the surface, that’s the story in a nutshell.
What I would like to focus on in this first blog, however, is another side to the novel – the depth. In this blog, I am going to assume you have read the novel. If you have not yet, then I apologize for what I’m about to reveal.
First, the prologue is a metaphor for the entire book. What is the wind and rain? Why did it keep Tylene from getting to the football field sooner? What is the role of the injured man with a limp? Who is he later on? And the men in the stands, why were they amused by her knowledge? And how about that knowledge – and she was only ten! Why does the prologue end with a quote? By the way, the novel ends with a quote, too. Why?
Let me say this straight out: I do not like to lecture. Funny coming from a university professor, I know. But that’s not my style of teaching and it’s not my style of writing. (If any of you are English teachers, I am a product of the writings of Peter Elbow). With that in mind, what are the hidden meanings?
Let’s look at a few. What motivates Tylene? Does she ever tell us that she is in pain? That her motivation derives from anguish? Remember, she is a product of the 1940s, and women of that time were excruciatingly private. She quietly held onto her pain; she carried it with her every day. Her husband knew it. Her father knew it. But anyone else who once knew it had long ago forgotten. This novel is narrated by a woman in perpetual pain.
Let’s consider the scene where Tylene and Moose are leaving Ida Mae’s home. Moose asks: “Will she be okay.” What Tylene tells us next is something different from what she tells Moose. She tells Moose: “In time.” She knows that’s not true, but she is sparing Moose from pain. And what does she tell us? “I wanted to tell Moose that from a mother’s perspective, there is nothing worse than the loss of a child. That Ida Mae would spend the rest of her life living through Nick’s friends – the experiences, the milestones…” This is the big reveal. This is Tylene’s motivation. This is Tylene telling us what she is doing every day of her life and why this season is so important to her. Who would have been a senior that year? Who would have been on that football team? Who are these friends that Tylene is living through – the experiences, the milestones?
Next, let’s look at Wendell Washington. Who is he? What was the 92nd Infantry? Without saying it, we know Wendell is African-American. So with that in mind, what does he mean when the night before the game he tells Tylene: “They’re afraid of us, afraid of change. Go get ‘em.” Who is “us?” Clearly, “us” is not a reference to the football team. Wendell is not talking about the competition. “Us” is every minority on the brink of busting through an oppressive social order – in this case, a woman and an African-American man. Wendell knew that what Tylene was doing was not only breaking barriers for women, she was breaking barriers for everyone behind a barrier. What does Tylene do in response to Wendell? “I smiled back, nodded in solidarity…” She knew. They both knew.
Last, let’s look at the quote from Mr. Redwine when he argues that Tylene should not be the team’s football coach: “Tylene, this is 1944, not 1984.” Okay, this was my Orwellian shout-out. But why? Well, how many women were head coaches of football teams in 1984? This was my attempt to remind the readers that even forty years later, nothing had changed.
As you can see, there is a much deeper message to this novel than its storytelling. What else can you find? What other messages about society do we see in this novel? I could go on and on, but I’ll save some for another blog entry. Till then, thank you for reading the novel, reading the blog, and, what I hope most of all, for falling in love with Tylene.