December 2003

Jessa Crispin

fiction

The Greyhound God by Keith Lee Morris

When we first meet Luke Rivers in Keith Lee Morrisís The Greyhound God heís on a winning streak at the dog track and a losing streak in his life. Sick of living in motels and having no sense of home, his wife takes his son and leaves without a word. Luke has been living off of sporadic bartending gigs and racetrack winnings, moving whenever the next town calls. Now for the first time in a long while, Luke must decide whether to live off of his good luck with the dogs or try to change the luck in his real life.

For most of the book, Luke chooses the track. His winning streak is so good, so remarkable, that he canít tear himself away. He has to lose first. He wants a sign that he should stop. The life he has to go back to is daunting, and he uses the winnings as an excuse. He doesnít even seem surprised that he loses his wife and son. Ever since his brotherís violent death at the age of six, he hasnít really expected anyone to stick around. His father never recovered from losing his ďfavoriteĒ and remained distant the rest of his life. His grandmother took over the role as father for him, but she died soon after. The family was very religious, but Luke took no comfort in the idea of his brother being in heaven. Losing his faith and his family all at once led him into a breakdown where he believed he was born out of a giant ball of fire. In order to recover he had to restructure the way he thought about God and life and he dreamt up the Greyhound God, an entity to watch over him at the tracks.

So God finally gave up. He said I just canít do any more. But what Iíll do, he went on saying, just to make things a little better, is Iíll give all the people without faith, all the people who still feel lost and confused and troubled in the world, a God of their own. This God will sit on the left hand of me, and heíll be the God of all things that go wrong... It will be his job to look after the sinners and the losers just the way they are, and not try to turn them into saints. He will offer them comfort when they are down, and make it possible for hem to rise to their feet again and run the race one more time.

This is the God that Luke prays to as he cannot accept an all-knowing god, or he cannot allow an all-knowing god to accept him. The loss of God and the loss of his father is one and the same to Luke, and he is in constant search of replacements. He is certain the Greyhound God is trying to tell him something with his winning streak, and he begins to wonder whatís real anymore. ďBecause the scary thing about it, about having lost touch with reality once before, is that you remember all the time how when youíd lost it it didnít feel like anything was wrong.Ē

Luke is an interesting character and very well written, but the women in the book seem flat. Jenny, his wife, is given little to do but leave. Even though there are chapters in her point of view, she seems barely sketched out. Sarah, a girl Luke hooks up with after Jenny leaves, is there merely as a good luck charm. Her brother is in the book half as much as Sarah, but heís a more fully formed character. Perhaps this is because Luke canít see these women as full people, but it seems more of an author quirk.

The Greyhound God has a compelling story and Morris tells it well. The idea of how each person forms their own idea of God, from Lukeís familyís blind devotion to his own constant searching, is surprisingly complex Ė surprising because the book is written in such a casual, conversational style. The book is much denser than it seems at first glance, and the story has stuck with me since I finished it. The Greyhound God is a solid debut that deserves a lot more exposure.

The Greyhound God by Keith Lee Morris University of Nevada Press
ISBN: 0874175550
328 Pages