‘Coach’ by Mary Robison


Coach by Mary Robison, 1981

The magic trick:

Creating an odd combination of family values, both caring and selfish

If Friday Night Lights was a short story, it would likely look a lot like this.

Small-town football coach trying to balance his ego with the demands of his marriage and the challenges of raising a teenaged daughter.

Sound familiar?

“Coach” is not a television drama, though. It’s a bit more nuanced than that.

I really like stories like this, where the author shows you the beginnings of a cliche and then veers the character or plot in a different, surprising direction.

The family seems pretty standard American normal, but look closer and the relationships are all a little skewed. But then again, nothing is so skewed that you could define it as weird. Nothing is so easily pinned down here. Coach loves his daughter. He takes her to get ice cream, he remembers fondly the night she wore a football uniform as a child on the field. Yet he leaves her to solve her own math difficulties, he doesn’t seem to mind her dating a 20-year-old college student. Meanwhile, he supports his wife’s decision to pursue her painting talent in a rental space away from the family. But he also doesn’t seem to take much of an active interest or show concern that the family unit is fractured. It’s all a bunch of “on this hand, but on that hand” feelings. Which is very realistic, and very interesting. And that’s quite a trick on Robison’s part.

The selection:

The bleat from Daphne’s upstairs bedroom ceased. A minute later, she was back down in the kitchen. She had a cardboard folder and some textbooks with her. “Later on, would you look at this stuff and help me?” she asked Coach. “Can you do these?”

He glanced over one of her papers. It was penciled with algebra equations, smutty with erasures and scribbled-out parts. “I’d have to see the book, but no anyway. Not now, not later. I don’t want to and I don’t have time.”

“Just great,” Daphne said. “And Mrs. Math Genius told me ‘Do it yourself.’ Well, I can’t.”

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