The Peerless Four, Victoria Patterson, Counterpoint Press, 2013, 196 pp
I love nothing more than a well-written unique story. I was blown away by The Peerless Four, a fictional account of four young Canadian girls who competed in the 1928 Olympics, the first time in thousands of years women were ever allowed to compete.
These sixteen/seventeen year old girls each not only enjoyed being athletic from a young age, they craved it. Whether running, high-jumping or shooting hoops, each one overcame objections from parents, some through drastic measures such as the one who hid in a closet and refused to eat.
Here is what men thought about females in the Olympics in the 1920s: "No female should be seen swaggering around, pretending to be male. If females must compete in the Olympics, they should be consigned to participating in ladylike sports that allow them to look beautiful and wear some pretty cute costumes: archery, figure skating, and horseback riding being the best examples--activities that would not cause them to perspire. Furthermore, there is scientific evidence that the rigors of athletic activities weaken women for motherhood."
After introducing the four women with a quick chapter each on how they became athletes in childhood, the author gives us Mel, who narrates the novel as the chaperone for the Peerless Four.
Mel was a runner herself. As the story progresses we learn that she quit running after a miscarriage or two, falling for the idea that motherhood makes a woman complete. What made Mel complete was running and her marriage became a prison where she could not be herself, even though the husband wasn't necessarily a bad guy. He even allowed himself to be convinced to let Mel go to Amsterdam with the female team.
I am possibly the world's most unathletic person but this ostensibly sports novel got hold of me and would not let go. Mel, Jack the coach, and the four girls circle around each other in varying states depending on how training is going, the differing pressures on them all, and each one's past baggage. The climax at the Games themselves is so full of tension, I could barely breathe as I read.
Finally comes the real truth about any athlete-the aftermath of winning or losing. Who came through unscathed? The chaperone who never competed, the coach who had made those girls his reason for living, or the girls themselves? Read The Peerless Four and find out.
The other day I watched the movie "Foxcatcher." I kept wishing I were watching a movie made from The Peerless Four.