Column #331 The Dart League King

Monday, September 8, 2008
Column 331
The Dart League King

In the history of time, at least in the English language (I am including British-speak as English, to be kind) there have been less than 75 books written about darts. Of course there are several about the old Dodge Dart and poison dart frogs but they don’t count.

Among the real darts books only six are novels (London Fields by Martin Amis, published in 1989; Death at the Bar by Ngaio Marsh penned fifty years earlier in 1939; Balling the Jack by Frank Baldwin and Wilson’s Island by Stephen Blanchard, from 1997; In and Out by Mat Coward, from 2001; and Cupid’s Dart by David Nobbs, published just last year). While the later few are fun reads, from a literary standpoint only the first two by Amis and Marsh are quality.

Now there is a third.

The Dart League King (to be released by Tin House Publishing on October 1 and available by preorder here: here) is Keith Lee Morris’ third book. An associate professor of English and creative writing at Clemson University, Morris has also had several short stories published in the New England Review and Story Quarterly, among others. And, most important here, he knows darts – having played for years. He even once founded a league.

Anybody whose been around the sport of darts understands that success at the line has a whole lot more to do with focus and, as the British say, “bottle,” than technique. And anybody who takes the game seriously has at one time or another suffered the result of lost concentration. Over time most of us learn to manage the inconveniences of a juke box that suddenly starts blasting during mid-stroke, a pat on the back at the wrong time, a chalker who can’t stand still, a beer too many, or a pretty girl in halter top.

In the Dart League King such distractions are minor.

Russell Harmon is The Man in his small town Idaho dart league. His team, which he captains, is the 321 Club and they are about to face the Garnet Lake Monsters. The Monster’s captain and power is a former serious circuit player named Brice Habersham who owns a convenience store and gas station in the community. Harmon and Habersham are undefeated on the season and set to face each other on this final night for the league singles championship.

The 270-page story is set in the 321 Club and unfolds over a single night – and it’s a page-turner that took me just one night to complete. Vivid life flashbacks and the indelible impact they have on the hopes and dreams of the five main characters collide in a mano-a-mono thriller of a match between the two protagonists.

Harmon’s is unhappy in his job, doesn’t have a steady girl and is basically broke. What he does have is three consecutive league championships under his belt and this night he is competing for his fourth and, as he sees it, if he can not repeat the future holds little hope. Darts is Harmon’s life. It’s all he has. He’s stoked. He’s ready.

But there are distractions of the major league type.

Harmon is a coke freak who owes his dealer, Vince Thompson, a couple thousand bucks – and the Beretta-packing Thompson is on a quest to settle the score. One of Harmon’s teammates, Tristan Mackey, is involved in the death of a co-ed and shows up at the bar with Harmon’s ex-girlfriend, the short-skirted and amply endowed Kelly Ashton. Add to all of this Harmon’s shock when he learns that he is the father of Ashton’s young child and you’ll appreciate real distractions.

But there’s one more and I won’t spoil it here. Let me just say that Harmon’s nemesis, Habersham, has a secret and it threatens to destroy the already complicated and pretty much nowhere lives of several of the characters we find so endearing, despite plentiful cause to feel the opposite.

Let there be no doubt that Keith Lee Morris knows the game. His darts discussion is on the mark, although the knowledgeable reader will find reason to debate, as we always do, some of the strategic references.

But the real strength of this book is in the prose and one might only hope to be as adept at their craft as is Morris. While there is an ever-present darts thread, this is much more a tale about real people with real lives struggling, as the publisher puts it, “to find balance between accepting and controlling their destinies.”

Whatever your interest – be it darts, life or just a damn good read – The Dart League King is worth every penny of the $14.94 list price.

From the Field,

Dartoid

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Dartoid
Author of the column that since 1995 has been featured by Bull’s Eye News, the American Darts Organization’s (ADO) Double Eagle and numerous other darts publications and websites around the globe.
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