Wednesday, October 27, 2010

BOOK: Gretzky's Tears by Stephen Brunt

Gretzky's Tears by Stephen Brunt, 259 pages
Hockey, Canada, and the Day Everything Changed

4th Canadian Book Challenge; 2nds Reading Challenge
Thanks to Randomhouse Canada for the review copy

There are those moments in your life, in our shared experience, that we remember. For Canadians, we remember hearing when Wayne Gretzky was traded to the Los Angeles Kings from the Edmonton Oilers. I was in the car, riding home from my summer job at Department of Veterans Affairs and it was on CBC Radio. (Yes, even back then I listened to CBC, but mostly because it was my parents' car.) Shock, disbelief, really? It was such a surprising announcement.

Stephen Brunt, author of Searching for Bobby Orr, another excellent sport/Canadian book, examines the events of the Gretzky trade - before, during and after. And isn't it the mark of great writing that even when you know what will happen, you can't put the book down?* Late one night as I was reading, and the famous press conference was being described, I couldn't put it down. Gretzky's book is as much about Peter Pocklington and Bruce McNall as it is about Gretzky, but it has to be - the trade was as much about those men as Wayne, and as much about big business as hockey. And while Wayne and Peter Puck did not talk to Brunt, most other key people did, including McNall and Walter Gretzky.

My edition had an updated epilogue to include the lighting of the Olympic torch at Vancouver 2010, where Gretzky played a pivotal role. (Boo to the editor who miswrote the name of Steve Nash, famous Canadian basketball player who helped light the torch and called him Rick Nash, a Canadian hockey player. That was very jarring to read.)

Overall, Brunt captures the love Canadians have for Wayne Gretzky and how attached we are to him, even though he hasn't lived in Canada for over 20 years. Brunt seems a bit surprised how forgiving Canadians are, but I would argue we are still attached to many of our Canadian exports who have gone to the States, like Michael J Fox and Howie Mandel. We still claim ownership and expect them to identify as Canadians.

Americans didn't get [hockey] - couldn't get it, except in a few border outposts and in Minnesota, which was, by virtue of its climate, liberal politics and the fact that they broadcast all ninety minute of As It Happens on the local public radio station, sort of a Canada-lite, in any case. p77

But not even the true, blinded zealots would be able to convince themselves that selling the perfect Canadian player from the perfect Canadian team in the perfect Canadian hockey town to foreigners of suspect motives in a place with palm trees was really in our own best interest. p78

*Note to self: Look for some other Brunt books like Second to None: The Roberto Alomar Story or Diamond Dreams: Twenty Years of Blue Jays Baseball

also reviewed: jayne at jayne's books