THIRD AND LONG
By Bob Katz. (Trolley Car Press, 252 pages, $15)
At its best, Bob Katz's novel "Third and Long" evokes the quirks and nuance of one of Jon Hassler's fictional small towns. The taciturn protagonist, Nick, limps off the train in Longview, Ohio, and ambles up to the Made Right clothing factory up the hill. A mysterious drifter, he's looking to land the plant manager's job -- a dicey proposition with Korean interests circling the factory, vulture-like.
Unlike most old football heroes, Nick doesn't want to talk about his glory days as a running back at Notre Dame -- no matter how much the old-timers at the bar pester him. He not only lands the factory boss job, but takes over as coach of the high school football team when the former coach keels over from a heart attack. Katz deftly builds suspense as Nick turns around production both on the field and at the factory. Still, readers will sense something's not quite right. We pull for him, but at the same time, we're wary. I won't give up the twist, but it was good enough to make me turn back to an early scene to see precisely where the morality play veered off.
My one quibble is with the unnamed narrator, who is not only at every football game and outburst at the plant, but who also witnesses every intimate moment between Nick and his love interest, Marie. In one scene, "Nick and Marie grew closer, dancing slowly, unpretentiously." Our narrator then quotes their small talk. I guess he could have been dancing one couple over, but he's a little too omniscient for his own good.
With football season in full swing, it's a worthwhile read about a declining small town during an intriguing autumn.
CURT BROWN, STAFF WRITER
IT'S A JUNGLE IN THERE
By: Steven Schussler with Marvin Karlins (Union Square Press, 245 pages, $25.95)
From the moment he burst out of a wooden crate in a Superman costume, greeting a stunned manager of a Miami radio station, "I'm your new super salesman," Steve Schussler announced to the business world that he was a character who demanded attention.
Now the creator of the Rainforest Cafe has written a book for budding entrepreneurs. But you don't have to know anything about business to find Schussler's escapades entertaining. The man who placed a Good Humor truck in the lot of his Galaxie Drive-In in St. Louis Park and wallpapered a bathroom at the old Juke Box Saturday Night in downtown Minneapolis with Tootsie Roll wrappers likes to have fun.
The Twin Cities native is also a savvy businessman, as noted by his many admirers -- from Donald Trump and Lee Iacocca to the Twin Cities' Harvey Mackay. And he's more than a little crazy. Who else would convert his Golden Valley home into a jungle for two years, with exotic birds flying around and oversized turtles crawling about, in attempt to lure investors to his Rainforest Cafe chain?
Schussler will sign books at 4 p.m. Oct. 12 at the University of Minnesota Bookstore, 300 SE Washington Av., Mpls., and at 7 p.m. Oct. 13 at Barnes and Noble, Galleria
PAUL LEVY, STAFF WRITER