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The Bright Lands


The Bright Lands

Reviewing THE BRIGHT LANDS is difficult for me. It is a taut and suspenseful thriller with a fast-moving plot and well-portrayed characters, but it has a major shortcoming --- it is “football stupid.” Let me explain this first, and then I will talk about the strengths of this enjoyable Gothic-styled mystery.

“Football stupid” is a term sometimes used to describe books, movies or plays that employ the sport as a foundation but do so in a fashion that departs from realistically portraying the game. An example that many may recognize comes from FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS by H. G. Bissinger, the acclaimed sports book that was adapted into a movie starring Billy Bob Thornton. It is the story of Texas high school football viewed through a season-long exploration of its team, the Permian Panthers, and the surrounding community. Both the book and the film remained true to the world of high school football. But then it became a television series starring Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton. While it was an innovative and interesting production, when it came to football, it often veered into plot twists and turns that were very difficult to accept. That often occurs in fictional dramas where plot developments often outweigh reality.

"As the book speeds toward its horrific climax, readers will have much to consider in this Gothic-themed story set deep in the heart of Texas."

The football scenes in THE BRIGHT LANDS are limited; only two games are described, and they are not pivotal to the story. If you are interested in reading a football-themed work of fiction, I would look elsewhere.

The novel is set in fictional Bentley, Texas, where Dylan Whitley is the star quarterback of the Bentley Bisons. The team is on its way to the state playoffs with hopes of a championship, and Dylan has the attention of college coaches and his community. But he is not happy and one day texts his older brother, Joel: “I can’t sleep, I can’t eat, I can’t go to the bright lights.” Joel now lives in New York, having fled Bentley when the town discovered his homosexuality. In New York, he has become a successful businessman and, concerned for the welfare of his brother, decides to return to Bentley and take Dylan out of the environment that is destroying his life.

Shortly after Joel’s arrival and after a Friday night game, Dylan leaves town for a brief trip to Galveston with teammates and disappears. Within a few days, his body is discovered in a field after a savage and fatal beating. While an investigation is undertaken by local authorities, the community seems far more interested in who will replace Dylan as quarterback in Friday night’s season finale against rival Perlin.

Aided by Deputy Starsha Clark, who shares some history with him, Joel undertakes the investigation of Dylan’s murder. Bentley is a town with many sinister secrets that their citizens choose either to avoid or ignore. As one resident reminds Clark, “We inherited this town. We all did. That don’t mean we have to love everything about it. I hope you can remember that.” As each layer of secrets is exposed, community anger expands, but it is the messengers rather than the message that attract the ire of the townspeople. While Fram may not be the best at describing football action, he is adept and observant at capturing the privilege proclaimed upon the youths who wear the Bison uniform, as well as the adulation offered to high school football in Texas.

Fram paints a portrait that has countless characters. Using brief chapters with flashbacks and orderly dialogue, he keeps that large cast well organized. The conclusion of THE BRIGHT LANDS is violent and somewhat disturbing. As the book speeds toward its horrific climax, readers will have much to consider in this Gothic-themed story set deep in the heart of Texas.

Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on July 17, 2020

The Bright Lands
by John Fram