I thought it’d be a gas to read this 1922 children’s sports novel in David Stone’s Yank Brown series, about a collegiate athlete who becomes a star harrier, but it turned out to be only a depressing reminder that the divisions and acrimony that divide our country today are nothing new.
Sure, there are a few nuggets of old-school running advice that still hold up. As their XC coach prepares the team for a 4-mile race against their arch-rival, Steelton College, he sums up with simple message: “Training started yesterday afternoon, men. Remember, no smoking, no pie-eating, and plenty of sleep.” Fair enough.
But from the earliest chapters, the plot takes a dark turn, and twists ever-darker.
There’s the constant body-shaming message in regard to Peanut Putnam, Yank’s roomate and best friend, who is referred to as “the fat boy” at least twice a page whenever he is in the scene. And he’s in a lot of scenes.
Then there is also a “slovenly, dark-haired” student named Kleinwold, whose name and description are glaring anti-Semitic code. In chapter one he delivers a socialistic, anti-American message in a public-speaking class, declaring allegiance only to the red flag of the coming proletarian revolution. Yank and his classmates, all WWI vets, are infuriated. They confront Kleinwold and when he refuses to recant, they assemble a night mob to strip him to his underwear, douse him him with molasses and feathers, and run him off campus.
Kleinwold seeks shelter among a mysterious group of Anarchists who, convenient to the story, live just across the river. Described in more of that obvious code as a “colony from New York” whose members are “dark, bearded, shifty, and dirty,” the group takes him in and demands an apology from the school. When that doesn’t work, they kidnap Yank’s friendly rival at school and demand the apology from the school as ransom.
There’s a training run that leads to Yank confronting a knife-wielding “Ivan,” a nighttime rescue of their kidnapped chum, a twisted ankle threatening their star runner’s chances in the big race, and . . . well, I had to stop there, I’m afraid. It’s up at Google Books, if you care to see how things work out. I couldn’t bear it anymore.