Housman’s “To an Athlete Dying Young” ruefully ironizes over a lad clever enough to “slip betimes away / From fields where glory does not stay.” Novelists, though, get more mileage out of superannuated jocks — Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom, Malamud’s Roy Hobbs, Philip Roth’s Swede Levov, Leonard Gardner’s Billy Tully — who, like [Theroux’s protagonist] Sharkey, don’t share their creators’ erudition. Such protagonists, of course, appeal particularly to male writers; Theroux suggested why in a 1983 essay that amounts to a cry of pain, finding “the quest for manliness essentially right wing, puritanical, cowardly, neurotic and fueled largely by a fear of women. It is also certainly philistine. There is no book hater like a Little League coach. … For many years I found it impossible to admit to myself that I wanted to be a writer … because being a writer was incompatible with being a man.”
(David Gates, “Paul Theroux’s New Novel Takes on Life’s Crashing Waves,” NYTimes, 4-13-21)
My aim, superannuated betimes, was to be a philologist and translator, which, if conceivable, is beneath even writer.
(c) 2021 JMN