Hockey Karma, by Howard Shapiro
[Note: I received this book free of charge from Net Gallery/Animal Media Group. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]
For those readers who come to this book from the author’s previous work in the series, namely the graphic novel “The Hockey Saint,” this book has a different feel altogether but there are definitely a lot of similarities. Obviously, if you like hockey there is much to appreciate . Whereas Saint had a young athlete whose moodiness and abrasiveness caused tension with his fellow athletes that was only partially overcome by his obvious athletic abilities, this graphic novel shows him feeling the effects of age and no longer quite the same world-conquering star that he used to be. Instead of the idealistic rush of youth we get the troubles of trying to age gracefully in the merciless glare of the public eye while still struggling with personal demons and a tendency towards secrecy. The characters here are still recognizably themselves, still struggling with the same large issues about trust and relationships and integrity and the desire to give back to the community but are older if not necessarily wiser people.
In terms of its plot, I will try not to give anything away, but there is the same emphasis on gorgeous graphics and thoughtful dialogue as well as the book being divided into chapters, each one including songs so one gets a sense of the soundtrack of the graphic novel if one imagines it to be a movie in one’s head. Despite the ten year time-gap, though, the book does pick up where it left off, with Jeremiah “Jake” Jacobson being an elite athlete with a mysterious personal life full of secrets, only from the beginning he makes some uncharacteristic lapses that show that his decade of being an elite athlete has taken its toll on him and he is faced with the rise of a young athlete ready to take his place. Meanwhile, his agent and best friend Tom is faced with trying to keep together a community service project the two had planned while also facing the question of restarting a relationship from the past that he did not expect to return. In both cases the question of confidence as well as dealing with the passage of time play heavily into the story and into the way we look at these characters and also, perhaps, ourselves as well.
Although this book is certainly an enjoyable read, especially for those who like graphic novels and sports fiction, I did not find it to be a perfect read. On a technical level, the book had a hard time loading on my computer after I downloaded it, and this made it a difficult task for me to read the book even if I enjoyed it. Also, I am not sure how fondly I think of the use of “karma” in the title. On a strict religious level, I do not think that “Jake” Jacobson had incurred a karmic debt through being a talented young hockey player himself that had to be repaid through his suffering awkwardly and uncomfortably through aging as an elite athlete that has lost a step or two. I understand that the author is probably using the term in the commonsense application of being a synonym for that overused word “ironic,” and Hockey Karma sounds better than Hockey Irony, I suppose. These are fairly minor quibbles, though, and in no way make this book a less enjoyable read, if somewhat melancholy given my own uncomfortable embrace of aging gracefully if not entirely happily.
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