As I grow now into my twenties, I often find myself longing for the good old days when times were simpler and worries were few, the kind of days that abounded in my childhood. I ask myself why I was so much happier in my younger days, why my mood was observably lighter and more carefree. It recently dawned on me that it’s because my perspective was so limited. The world that I inhabited was so much smaller and more neatly defined. Simply put, I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and that makes for a blissfully ignorant existence. With maturity, that life passes away, never to exist again. But if we’re lucky, we can still experience little snippets, pleasurable reminisces which occasionally transport us back to those happier times. Through his novel, Barking Signals (Badly) During Goldwater, author Garret Mathews took me on such a trip.
Mathews is a renowned author, having penned over 6,500 newspaper columns, two plays, numerous novels, and an audio project called “Folks are Talking” (his extremely interesting bio can be found here). Not only is he a skilled wordsmith, but he also possesses tremendous insight into the human mind, and into what makes people tick. This exceptional perception is particularly effective and enjoyable in Barking Signals, as Mathews’s narrative voice provides us with valuable insight into the thoughts of the central character.
Mathews’s flawed hero, A.C. Jackson, is a puny, tentative adolescent growing up in a rural community in the 1960’s. The story centers on his struggles, both on and off the field, as he makes the life-altering decision to try out for his high school’s JV football team. Anyone who hearkens back to his or her days as a teenager can relate, and have a hearty laugh at the day-to-day conundrums A.C. faces. A dry humor is a mainstay of Mathews’s writing style, but he does not merely flit across the life of 14-year-old A.C. The depth of the encounters he faces – meeting the mysteries of fear, love, identity, rejection, and even death head-on – imbue Barking Signals with an exceptional sense of realism. This is no mere sports story, no 80-page tale of how little Tommy tries hard and catches the winning touchdown at the end; this is a human novel, a story that will reach deep into your heart before you even realize what is happening, and enrapture you wholeheartedly. A.C.’s situation hit eerily close to home for me, from his constant concern over his social status and his fear of the unknown to the teacher who befriends and challenges him to grow. As is the case in any good novel, A.C. is not a static character; we clearly see his development over time. When he stumbles we commiserate, when he triumphs we rejoice as well… and our investment increases as we turn the pages. As I turned the last page, I did not want it to end. I wanted to follow A.C. further on.
Mathews has set out to accomplish a difficult task, to create a work that reaches across generations. It is not easy to do, but he succeeds brilliantly. Fathers can enjoy A.C.’s tale with their sons. This book will touch so many more people than just fans of football. I would like to see it as required reading in middle school and ninth grade classrooms. The lessons that it teaches are so readily understood and so valuable… its merits are self-evident. And it is an easy read and an engaging text. I am a hard reader to win over, but Garret Mathews has succeeded fully in earning my esteem. Read Barking Signals (Badly) During Goldwater. It will remind you, too, of simpler times. It will make you laugh, and reflect, and feel. And it will be a literary experience that you won’t soon forget. I highly recommend it.
Here is an excerpt from the novel that is sure to leave you wanting more. This dialogue takes place when A.C. is calling his crush to ask her to Fall Social… and it’s pure genius.
With as much self-assuredness as he can muster, A.C. dials Sylvia’s number. He prays he can’t get through. Or, even better, that she put in a special request with the phone company to only let in calls from boys who don’t have to beat themselves up to get a black eye. A.C. won’t get a rejection. Just an endless dial tone. He’ll tell Mr. Wiley he wanted to ask, but technology wouldn’t let him. That wouldn’t earn the big money, but maybe the man would toss a couple of fifty-cent pieces his way.
Two times. That’s enough. No sense waking up everybody in the Trice household just for a boy-girl conversation.
A.C. starts to put the receiver down.
It’s her. He can’t talk. There’s a mud bog in this larynx.
“Who is this?”
She isn’t agitated. Her voice is calm. Patient. It’s like she knows the poor soul on the other end is scared to death, and she wants to give him every opportunity to collect his gumption.
“Uh, uh, uh.”
There is no surly “Just state your business.” No “Get on with it, there’s another call on Line Two.”
Just a kindly, “Gee, your voice sounds familiar.”
Of course it does. Sylvia has heard A.C. give oral reports in English class since they were seven years old.
“Uh, this is me,” he stammers.
“Oh, now I know. How is Mr. A.C. Jackson doing?” she asks pleasantly.
The kid is shaking too much to talk, so Sylvia dances lead.
“Did you hear about Aggie in world geography? Mrs. Jerrue pulled down the big map of the world and asked him to find South America. Aggie looked high and low from Australia to the Aleutian Islands. Couldn’t find it anywhere. Said the map company must’ve left it off. Everybody got a big laugh.”
A.C. can’t believe what he’s hearing. Sylvia is actually trying to make this easy on him. She’s like the tutor in remedial English. She wants him to pass the test.
A formal request is much too intimidating. He decides it will be better if he breaks it down to the lowest common denominator. It works in blocking assignments. Maybe it will in attempted dating.
“Me. You. Fall Social.”
Want more? You can purchase this book by sending $22 plus $3 postage and handling to:
Garret Mathews, 7954 Elna Kay Drive, Evansville, Indiana 47715.
More information can be found at pluggerpublishing.com.