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The Throwback Special
Cover of The Throwback Special
The Throwback Special
A Novel
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Winner of The Paris Review/Terry Southern Prize for Humor.

"Chris Bachelder is a witty, compassionate troublemaker, and we need more like him." —George Saunders

Here is the absorbing story of twenty-two men who gather every fall to painstakingly reenact what ESPN called "the most shocking play in NFL history" and the Washington Redskins dubbed the "Throwback Special": the November 1985 play in which the Redskins' Joe Theismann had his leg horribly broken by Lawrence Taylor of the New York Giants live on Monday Night Football.

With wit and great empathy, Chris Bachelder introduces us to Charles, a psychologist whose expertise is in high demand; George, a garrulous public librarian; Fat Michael, envied and despised by the others for being exquisitely fit; Jeff, a recently divorced man who has become a theorist of marriage; and many more. Over the course of a weekend, the men reveal their secret hopes, fears, and passions as they choose roles, spend a long night of the soul preparing for the play, and finally enact their bizarre ritual for what may be the last time. Along the way, mishaps, misunderstandings, and grievances pile up, and the comforting traditions holding the group together threaten to give way.

The Throwback Special is a moving and comic tale filled with pitch-perfect observations about manhood, marriage, middle age, and the rituals we all enact as part of being alive.

Winner of The Paris Review/Terry Southern Prize for Humor.

"Chris Bachelder is a witty, compassionate troublemaker, and we need more like him." —George Saunders

Here is the absorbing story of twenty-two men who gather every fall to painstakingly reenact what ESPN called "the most shocking play in NFL history" and the Washington Redskins dubbed the "Throwback Special": the November 1985 play in which the Redskins' Joe Theismann had his leg horribly broken by Lawrence Taylor of the New York Giants live on Monday Night Football.

With wit and great empathy, Chris Bachelder introduces us to Charles, a psychologist whose expertise is in high demand; George, a garrulous public librarian; Fat Michael, envied and despised by the others for being exquisitely fit; Jeff, a recently divorced man who has become a theorist of marriage; and many more. Over the course of a weekend, the men reveal their secret hopes, fears, and passions as they choose roles, spend a long night of the soul preparing for the play, and finally enact their bizarre ritual for what may be the last time. Along the way, mishaps, misunderstandings, and grievances pile up, and the comforting traditions holding the group together threaten to give way.

The Throwback Special is a moving and comic tale filled with pitch-perfect observations about manhood, marriage, middle age, and the rituals we all enact as part of being alive.

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Awards-
About the Author-
  • Chris Bachelder is the author of Bear v. Shark, U.S.!, Abbott Awaits, and The Throwback Special and his writing has appeared in McSweeney's and The Paris Review. He lives in Cincinnati, where he teaches at the University of Cincinnati.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    January 11, 2016
    A real-life football tragedy—the sacking of Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann by New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor in a 1985 game, and the career-ending injury that Theismann sustained as a result—is the foundation of this wryly amusing rumination on manhood and male bonding. Every year for the past 16 years, 22 men have convened at a hotel at an unnamed location off of Interstate 95 to physically re-enact the historic game. What at first seems a slightly screwball form of fantasy football—the men are assigned their roles through a lottery governed by an idiosyncratically detailed set of rules—gradually reveals itself to be a metaphor-rich elaboration of the rules and regulations that shape mature male life. As the men discuss their static marriages and their difficult relationships with their children, the allure of the game—especially the time before the fateful play when “the things that had not happened yet were greater than the things that had happened”—becomes clear. Although Bachelder’s (U.S.!) characters sometimes blend indistinguishably into one another—perhaps not unintentionally—the anxieties and concerns that define them are genuine. One man, considering why people marry, theorizes that “the only thing marriage can really give you is the sense that your life is witnessed by another person.” In one hilarious scene, three men supposedly step out to share a ritual smoke, making it awkwardly impossible for each to reveal to the others that he gave up smoking that year. Filled with subtle humor and incisive insights, Bachelder’s novel will resonate with anyone who has pondered the game of life.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from December 15, 2015
    In this comic dissection of male bonding, a group of men gathers for their yearly celebration and re-enactment of a notorious play in professional football. In their 17th annual gathering, 22 men arrive at a 2 '-star hotel on U.S. Interstate 95 for a weekend of rituals tied to the five seconds in 1985 when Lawrence Taylor of the New York Giants sacked Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann and fractured the tibia and fibula of his right leg, ending his career. Bachelder (Abbott Awaits, 2011, etc.) looks at the strange, inane, and obvious things American males deem holy--as well as the many small pains they tend to share without "sharing." Among the weekend's big moments are the lottery assigning each man's role as a real-life athlete from the 1985 game, the viewing of video of the sack, and the re-enactment itself. Bachelder seems able to riff wryly on almost anything. One conversation concerns those whose wives have asked them to sit while urinating. Another details a man's attraction to the women pictured in illustrated children's books. Yet another drifts "inevitably toward vasectomy and time share." Eight delightful pages begin: "It would be difficult to overstate the men's enthusiasm for continental breakfast." As a group, the middle-aged men produce "waves of masculine sound, the toneless song of regret and exclamation." They often talk in a "complex alloy of sincerity and derision." One on one, they may speak quietly of their children and marriages and wonder when "daily life [would] cease to consist of a series of small threats." Bachelder's take on manhood is sharply observed and sympathetic and funny enough to win over even those readers who abhor football and its fans.

    COPYRIGHT(2015) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Julie Schumacher, bestselling author of Dear Committee Members The Throwback Special is a comic meditation about marriage, ritual, friendship, parenthood, aging, and unlikely obsessions. This is a funny, insightful, and surprisingly poignant book.
  • Tom Bissell, author of Extra Lives A hilarious literary novel about our least hilarious—and least literary—national pastime. No one who reads it will ever be able to think about football, Joe Theismann, Lawrence Taylor, or indeed the male psyche in quite the same way again.
  • Kevin Wilson, author of The Family Fang What a brilliant book.
  • George Saunders, best-selling author of Tenth of December Chris Bachelder is a witty, compassionate troublemaker, and we need more like him.
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    W. W. Norton & Company
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  • Copyright Protection (DRM) required by the Publisher may be applied to this title to limit or prohibit printing or copying. File sharing or redistribution is prohibited. Your rights to access this material expire at the end of the lending period. Please see Important Notice about Copyrighted Materials for terms applicable to this content.

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Chris Bachelder
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