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FICTION : COURTING PANDEMONIUM by Fredrick Barton (Peachtree: $14.95; 350 pp.).

January 18, 1987|Taffy Cannon

This second novel by the author of the widely praised "The El Cholo Feeling Passes" centers on the efforts of Barbara Jeanne Bordelon to become the first female player on a New Orleans men's high school basketball team. More precisely, it deals with how Barbara Jeanne's quest affects her basketball coach, Mac McIntyre.

Mac was reared in the New Orleans unwed mothers' home where his exceptionally coarse and unlikable mother worked. He's non-sexist enough to teach home economics, athletic enough to have played for the Celtics and evolved enough to fully support Barbara Jeanne. Alas, Mac is passive to the nth degree. He bumbles along ineffectually, never acting when reacting is an alternate possibility. Without fail, in any public situation, Mac winds up looking like a buffoon and/or villain.

Barbara Jeanne's drama occurs against a predictable backdrop of public outcry. The Feminist Organization of Louisiana (F.O.O.L.) supports the young athlete with a cartoonish fervor, while the equally unyielding Soldiers of Jesus rail against the desecration of holy basketball. Both organizations are directly connected to Mac McIntyre: F.O.O.L. by a former lover and Soldiers of Jesus by the father Mac never knew, a philandering preacher.

All of this is an exciting premise. Unfortunately, we see far too much of Mac's guttermouth mother and not nearly enough of Barbara Jeanne. Occasionally clunky language ("underwearlessness"?) doesn't help. "Courting Pandemonium" ends up as less than the sum of its parts.

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