Slightly adapted from the review I just posted on Goodreads . . .
No, I’m not a sports fan, but my fascination with the Vineyard and anything related to race and class is insatiable, so I had such hopes for this book. Class is a shifty thing on Martha’s Vineyard. It doesn’t look like what one reads about in textbooks or sees in urban areas. Here, as elsewhere in the U.S., we bend over backwards to avoid seeing it. It’s complicated by the distinction between the year-round population and the “summer people”; by the ethnic groups with deep roots here (especially Wampanoag, Anglo, Portuguese, and Cape Verdean); and by the long history of African Americans on the island.
What a great idea, I thought: to explore “notions of race and class” by focusing on basketball, specifically the summer basketball program that started in 1970. Basketball does bring together people from a variety of backgrounds, women as well as men (and not only as spectators), and the tight focus might make manageable complex subjects that otherwise tend to sprawl out of control.
Unfortunately, Bijan C. Bayne’s Martha’s Vineyard Basketball: How a Resort League Defied Notions of Race and Class (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015) doesn’t deliver. The raw material is there, especially the interviews with participants, and most especially those with Coach Jay Schofield and the several participants quoted at length in the “Coming of Age” chapter near the end of the book.
What isn’t there is a coherent narrative, a path for the reader to follow through the thicket of names, dates, and anecdotes. The book jumps back and forth between the 1970s, the ’90s, and the present, and between the Vineyard and the various urban neighborhoods where some of the participants spent their winters.
It deals almost as much with the basketball program at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School as with the summer basketball activities at “The Courts” at Oak Bluffs’ Niantic Park.
It veers off on tangents like Senator Ted Kennedy’s famous mishap on Chappaquiddick (1969) and the filming of Jaws (1974). Not only do these things have little to do with basketball, they play into common stereotypical notions of what the Vineyard is, or was, about. Despite his long relationship with the Vineyard, Bayne generally sees it as off-islanders and summer people see it.
And the book frequently gets bogged down in the scoring and rebounding stats from games that took place 20 and 40 years ago. Momentous as these might have been at the time, they loom much smaller when this much time has passed.
This book desperately needed an editor. Two editors: one to work with the author on structure, then one to focus on words, sentences, and paragraphs. Someone should have noticed that West Chop is not in Oak Bluffs and that the ferry Scamanchi‘s name was not spelled like that. (Schamonchi, anyone?). And, once the manuscript was complete and the page proofs ready, a proofreader. No editors are mentioned in the acknowledgments. Was the book professionally edited at all?
Being an editor and writer myself, I can’t help offering a couple of suggestions, even though it’s too late to make this book what it could have been. At the top of the list: Use the title and subtitle as a guide. There are four big topics here: Martha’s Vineyard, basketball, race, and class. Develop each one separately, then braid them together. As it is, we get some basketball history and some glimpses of the Vineyard before 1970. The history of African Americans on the Vineyard doesn’t come up till chapter 6, and class isn’t discussed at all. What, exactly, are these “notions of race and class” that the summer basketball program defied?
In the process, some major themes would emerge, among them basketball as a rite of passage and performance space; the importance of coaches and peers in transmitting values to young people; the contrast between summers then and summers now, especially from a kid’s point of view; and the importance of friendship, especially across race, class, and seasonal lines.
Then I might look for two or three individuals whose experience over the decades could provide both a narrative thread and a distinct personality for readers to follow. As it is, those with some Vineyard experience are going to love finding familiar names in the text (I did!), but outsiders are likely to be dizzied by the sheer number of names — a little like dipping into the sports section of a newspaper when you aren’t a sports fan. Coach Schofield and the author himself are the most likely candidates.
Then I’d send the author home to organize the wealth of detail in this book into the coherent narrative it could have been.