Set in Alabama, this is a “funny, entertaining novel about college football coaches and the women who love them” (Library Journal).
Balls is the story of the rise and fall of a Southern college football coach—told by his wife and the many other women in his orbit, from his mother, mother-in-law, and daughter to the girlfriends and grandmothers who watch from the sidelines, cheering, worrying, and praying when the players are carried off on stretchers.
These women standing behind this handsome football hero tell the story of Mac Gibbs, star quarterback, who married the beautiful homecoming queen, Dixie Carraway. Set in the home state of the legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant, the novel relates the tale of Mac’s fame as a college player—and eventual infamy as head coach of the Birmingham University Black Bears. They don’t care much for the “science” of the game—or its brutality. They see football as it really is: sexy, dirty, sweaty, painful, empowering, corrupt. The story they tell is often funny—and not always pretty.
Written by a prominent coach’s wife, this is an “engrossing [and] terrific book” about love, competition, and a woman taking control of her own life in an era of change (Booklist).
“Kincaid knows her Southern football culture thoroughly. . . . The novel’s warm humor and eccentric characters, so reminiscent of Lee Smith, kicks this into the winning end zone.” —Library Journal
“What makes the tale fun is that Kincaid tells it through the eyes of the women in Mac’s life . . . Great Southern details . . . Characters so believable you can hear them drawl.” —People
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Dixie is a pretty girl. I hope it doesn't ruin her life.
There are worse things than not getting chosen, like getting chosen too early. Or getting chosen too often. But you have to live awhile before you can know that.
Dixie's smart too, which if she isn't careful can destroy her about as quick as anything else. I tell her, "Being smart can be a real detriment to a woman unless she knows how to go about it tactfully."
"Like you do, Rose?" she says.
"There are worse examples you could follow," I say. "Where do you think you got your brains in the first place?"
"From Daddy, I guess," she says.
"God knows how I wish that was the truth." I laugh.
Then Dixie looks at me sharp-eyed and that's the end of it.
She's my daughter and I love her, but without question she's got Bennett's sour blood. She's got that Carraway melancholy. Bennett Sr. might be the one that put the gun to his head, but they're all geared that way. Although there're just the slightest traces in Dixie so far, I see the signs and it breaks my heart. I'm afraid if she's not careful — in time — that Carraway despair might overtake her.
Now my family — if we all wanted to put guns to our heads, then yes, it would make sense. Nobody would question it. Most of us have good reason to try and hurry out of this life and on to the next one. Some of us don't have anything to lose but loss itself, if you'll excuse the expression. But the Carraways now. It's mysterious. They have everything to live for. Every reason in the world to be happy.
I'm planning Dixie's wedding. None of her grandparents are alive to see it. Nobody much in my family left to witness this. So mostly it will be Bennett's people, cousins, aunts and uncles, coming from miles around to see how Bennett is handling his grief and his father's estate. I think they'll be surprised. Bennett has good business sense, which I guess is better than no sense at all. He tells me there's no need for Dixie's wedding to be extravagant, but he knows I don't believe in extravagance. I believe in understatement. I want this to be something we all remember — forever. Bennett says, "Rose, don't try to make this into the wedding you and I never had, you hear me. It's Dixie's wedding. If you need to plan something for the two of us you can go ahead and start planning our funerals."
I've already planned his funeral a thousand times. In my mind I've given him an assortment of tasteful burials, chosen the casket and the music and stood right there and watched them shovel the dirt over him. So whether he knows it or not I'm way ahead of him.
Dixie, married. It's nothing I can really prepare her for. I can't decide if it's cruel for mothers not to warn their daughters, or if it's crueler to. Sometimes I get the feeling she wants me to talk her out of it. But I know if I tried she would probably never forgive me.
And Mac. He's a nice boy. I'm fond of Mac. If he'd been drafted into pro football he could have given her a good life. Some travel and excitement. Zale says Mac is a fine Christian and would make a good preacher if he was inclined. But no, he's inclined to make a good high school football coach. I just want Dixie to be happy. I don't know if football is going to be any kind of life for her.
Besides, I wonder if Mac really knows Dixie, knows about the notebooks she fills her room with. You can't call them diaries because there's no key to lock them with. I see those notebooks. Under her bed, in the back of her closet behind the laundry basket, closed away in shoe boxes. I could take one out and read it anytime, but I don't. Even when she leaves one of those notebooks lying wide open on her unmade bed, her thoughts right out there like so many birds poised for flight, well, I don't disturb them.
Dixie says, "Rose, you do like Mac, don't you?"
I say, "Of course."
"I mean really," she says. "Are you crazy about him?"
"I think Mac is just fine," I say.
"Well, sometimes I wonder. That's all. After what happened that night. It was like you hated him."
"That's over and done with," I say. "We've settled that, haven't we?"
"I guess so," she says.
I know she thinks about it. I know it didn't make sense to her at the time and might never. But when I woke up so late like that, an alarm ringing silently in my head, and went down the hall in the dark, the last thing I ever thought I'd see was a man in bed with Dixie. Every thought flew through my mind. Save her, I said to myself. You've got to save her. The idea felt like pulling a trigger and it made a sound like a gunshot too, the echo inside me. At first I went so crazy I didn't know it was Mac. It was just some thief in the night stealing my daughter's life. I wanted to kill him, to just rip into him, tear him apart — and make him regret everything right before he died from a bullet to his heart. Where was Bennett's gun? Where was the gun Bennett's daddy shot himself in the head with? Where was my sharp kitchen knife? I went at him with my fingernails and teeth. He wasn't Mac. He was every man I've ever loathed. He was every man I've ever watched destroy something beautiful.
And Dixie was screaming so bad I had to slap her to make her stop. That's what scared Mac, I think, seeing me slap Dixie that way. But she wasn't just Dixie. I was slapping myself too — that's what he didn't understand. I was slapping hell out of the stupid girl I had been, the one that now Dixie was going to be. Slapping sense into her. But she wouldn't stop screaming.
He says now I didn't actually hurt him, but God knows it wasn't because I didn't try. Just some scratches on his face and bruises that didn't amount to much. Afterwards I had his skin under my fingernails. Zale says there's the power to kill in all of us. I know that now. I know that in a split second you can become somebody you don't recognize and you can try to kill the stranger in you and the strangers around you. There was a moment, barely a flash, when I thought, God, yes, this feels good. It feels right. I have never killed anything but there is so much that needs killing. Mac kept saying, "Mrs. Carraway, it's okay. It's me, Mac." It almost makes me laugh to think about it now, Mac believing he's an exception, that he's different from all the rest of the men in this world. If Bennett hadn't stopped me when he did, who knows what I'd have done.
They all thought I was crazy. That's what Bennett kept saying "Goddamnit, Rose. You are fucking crazy." Bennett talks so ugly sometimes. He pinned me up against the wall with my hands twisted behind my back while Mac got out of the house. I thought he might break both my arms.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" Bennett kept slamming me up against the wall. "Say? What the hell is wrong with you?"
Of all people, he should know.
The first time Mac opened one button on my blouse and touched my breast I thought it was a moment of genius. I think it must have been the way America felt when Columbus discovered it.
Even now, even though we're officially engaged, we still park up by the Vulcan on that road Mac knows, because of that time Rose caught Mac in my room and went crazy — and we weren't even doing anything but lying there talking — I mean crazy like a lunatic who belonged in an insane asylum, which I don't know if I will ever forgive her for or not, and she had on that see-through nightgown too, her nipples bouncing like two polka dots under there. Since then, we don't have any place much to go where we can be alone together. Except Mac's car, which sort of automatically veers up toward the Vulcan now.
"You are so sweet, Dixie Carraway, I could just eat you up," Mac says. It's not an original thing to say. It's what people say to babies, but he sincerely means it. In the last couple of years Mac has named his top lip Lewis and his bottom lip Clark because he says they are such a hell of a pair of explorers. They are too. He's like a man lip-led. Our mouths have taken over all other aspects of our love, like we are two infants in the world of passion — tasting, biting. I love that word, passion. It makes me think of a vine-ripened tomato on the hottest day of the year that last second before the skin splits open and the pulp oozes out. That fleshy red. All those little seeds.
Mac goes crazy if I suck his finger. You wouldn't think a little thing like sucking a finger could do to a guy what it does to Mac. But I don't just suck it, I really make it interesting, you know. I've developed what you might call technique. I just love what mouths can do — that the place that makes the words is also the place that makes the kisses. I watch him watch me while I suck his finger. For those few minutes it's like I rule the world. I mean if I said, "Mac, go run into that burning building," I think he'd actually consider it.
Before Mac, Daddy was mean to boys who came around me. He was rude. Rose was never rude and it really irritated her for Daddy to be — but too bad. Daddy was always telling boys it was time for them to go home, and no, I could not drive down to the shopping center with them. No, I couldn't go to the late movie. No, I couldn't go to the drive-in. No. No. No. Maybe that's where I developed my appreciation for the power of the word no.
But as soon as Mac came along, Daddy just sort of changed his tune. Sure, Mac could take me to the drive-in. Sure I could drive over to Tuscaloosa with Mac to see a basketball game. If it had to do with Mac, Daddy was in favor of it. I love Daddy and all, but the truth is this has never set right with me.
Since Daddy abandoned his fatherly patrol it has become my job to patrol things. I think I do it as well as any girl I can name who is fully human. Saying no is hard work. It can wear you out. As young as I am I'm already practically exhausted. No. No. No. God, how Mac loves hearing me say that word. Just the word itself seems to transform me into an angel and send me flying around in some heavenly sphere in his mind. Lucky for me no is Mac's favorite word. That's the kind of boy he is.
I've put on a few extra pounds, so I need to find a bridesmaid dress that won't point that out. "All I ask is that you cover up your breasts," Dixie says. "This is not a cleavage exhibition, Frances Delmar. It's a wedding, thank you."
Is it my fault I might outshine the bride in certain areas? "Take it up with God, Dix," I tell her. "Don't blame me."
See, the real truth is I'm scared to death of taking after my mother, whose boobs make her look like a woman trying to shoplift a couple of watermelons out of the Piggly Wiggly. And Dixie knows I'm scared of turning into my mother — because she's scared of the same thing.
Cleet says, "Frances Delmar, as far as I can see there's not one inch of you to waste." He's the sweetest guy. He says, "Let's put it this way, Frances Delmar. Nobody would ever mistake you for a boy. That's for damn sure." Cleet's the best.
Anyway, I've cut out all french fries, Shoney's Big Boys, and hot fudge cake until the wedding. Also no barbecue. That should take these pounds off. But you know where I always lose first? Boobs. Wouldn't you know it?
Dixie's letting Rose plan her whole wedding. That's just like Dixie too. Do you think I'd just sit back and let my mother make all the decisions about the biggest day of my life? But Dixie acts like some kind of dumb Sleeping Beauty or something. It can really drive me crazy if I let it. We've been around and around about it. I say, "Dixie, damnit, wake up and smell the coffee, child."
She smiles and says, "F. D., you smell it for me. You tell me what it's like."
Sometimes I think she lives her whole life through me. I do. Sometimes I wonder if I'd have done half of what I've done if Dixie wasn't sitting at home waiting for me to come over and tell her all about it. She likes her adventure secondhand, and preferably home-delivery. Like to Dixie a book is a real wild adventure, if that tells you anything. She's just so indifferent sometimes it really gets me. Curiosity might have killed the cat, but I swear if lack of curiosity hasn't killed more than just a bunch of stupid cats.
But don't get me wrong. I love Dixie. I really do. We've been best friends most of our lives. I used to spend practically every weekend at her house, used to go to all the Birmingham University football games with her family. Her dad's a real sports fiend. Has season tickets to everything. And Rose, well, I guess she liked to see and be seen. But whenever I think of Dixie and me as kids, I think of those afternoons at Legion Field when I taught Dixie how to smoke. We got in a stall in the ladies' room on the visitors' side, where nobody would recognize us. The opposing team's women were lined up waiting to pee. "You girls come out of there with those cigarettes," they said. But it's a free country. There's no law about how long you can stay in a bathroom stall. And I take credit where credit is due: it was me who taught Dixie to inhale and hold it in even if it hurt.
Dixie's parents were too wrapped up in the game to notice when later we smelled like a couple of Lucky Strikes doused in Shalimar. Her daddy was about three sheets to the wind by then. And Rose has been accused of being good looking all her life, but on game days she was guilty. I mean it. She was so beautiful sitting there that I went momentarily insane and started wishing she was my mother too.
Dixie and I wanted to grow up and be like the women we saw at Legion Field — lipstick bloodred, hair sprayed into helmets, fingernails painted, green-and-gold outfits with matching shoes and dangling gold bracelets. To Dixie and me, the ball game women were so glamorous.
We loved football, of course. The actual game. It was the most exciting thing there was. We memorized all the cheers. We studied the cheerleaders, rated their bodies, their kicks, their breasts. We took points off for sweat rings under their arms, failure to smile nonstop, fat thighs, or hair that frizzed in the heat. This seemed only fair. We knew even then that cheerleaders set the beauty standard that we were to aspire to. Of course I went on to be a cheerleader — high school and college both. But Dixie, she wasn't so lucky — even though she pretends it doesn't bother her. She pretends she'd rather be at home reading a book or writing some sort of weird poem or something. Dixie's practically gorgeous, you know, when she wants to be. But if you ask me she's never known how to make the most of it. Like she could have if she'd been a cheerleader.
Even when we were kids Dixie and I were certain we would grow up to marry football players. We swore neither of us would settle for less. We couldn't think of anything worse than ending up with one of the smart boys at school. Some guy like Porter Warren — even though Dixie swears he's a nice guy. If you ask me he's as queer as a three-dollar bill. Besides, smart boys were not real boys as far as Dixie and I were concerned. Some of our best friends were smart boys, but certainly neither of us wanted to grow up and marry one.
Once I said to Dixie, "You know where I'm going to have my wedding? On the football field, at halftime, you know, in front of the whole stadium. My future husband can run out on the field wearing his uniform and carrying his helmet in his hand."
"The coach won't allow it," Dixie said. "He'll make your future husband keep his mind on the game."
"Not if my future husband is a big star," I said.
"Yeah, but what if the Birmingham Black Bears are losing?"
"I'll call the wedding off. No way will I marry a loser."
To this day I think that it was at Legion Field that Dixie and I learned to be women. What we loved about football was mainly two things. One, you could scream all you wanted to. We screamed until we began to sweat and our raw throats could no longer be soothed by Dr Pepper. Sometimes now I wish I could just go someplace and scream like we did back then. Just scream and scream and scream.
But the second thing, the thing we loved even more than we loved screaming, was that we loved going back and forth to the ladies' room to comb our hair. Dixie has that straight hair that just lies still, obedient as some old dog that just knows one trick. But me, well, I have this hair. I've had to fight with all this curly mess day and night my whole life. If my hair was a dog it'd be a wet puppy, jumping, bouncing, yapping like crazy, running around chasing its own tail.
Ten or twelve times a game we walked back and forth in front of the concession stands to see who we might see — and more important, who might see us. We loved to roam the stadium with a swarm of friends and blend our small, nervous crowd into the larger, surer crowd, you know. We loved belonging. That was the magic of the thing — you could just buy a ticket and belong.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Balls"
Copyright © 1998 Nanci Kincaid.
Excerpted by permission of ALGONQUIN BOOKS OF CHAPEL HILL.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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What People are Saying About This
Balls is sad, funny, honest -- and one of the best novels ever written about college football. But this sumptuous roman a clef is about more than that: love, marriage, sex, race, corruption, all set in a vivid milieu where Saturday is the holy day.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This was an easy read. Not the best story I ever read but I enjoyed it.
C c f
Rainbow: oh come on! I have a soccer game to go to! Purple and white: no you promised. Now we will stay. Rainbow: grrrrr!
YOURE ALL PEASANTS *he huffs a sigh and drags Swag out*
*Turns into Jordan.* Hel<_>lr. *Grins.*
Smiles at Ashley. Do you want to dance then?
Waits for someone to ask her to dance
Mouse rp at under the bush they are having a dinner party!
Goes to a seperate room and comes out in usual Dauntless Gear. "This isnt as fun as I expected. And with everyone ignoring me, theres no hope for me to pull of a prank. Pooh. Well, bai everyone!" Runs out jumping from high to high places to Dauntless.
She sighed and left.
"Which Ashley are you talking about? Where do you know me from? There are like three Ashleys."
I ish out.
Humming Teenage Wasteland, she twirls around on the ballroom floor.