Thursday, November 18, 2010

My Favorite Reads: THE DREYFUS AFFAIR by Peter Lefcourt

This is such a favorite book of mine, I re-read it every now and then and keep in touch with the author's website to see when-oh-when they're FINALLY going to turn it into the terrific film I know it can be.
From the back cover: What could possibly happen that would shock America the way the Dreyfus affair and its violent anti-Semitism shocked France a century ago? The answer: A major league shortstop kissing his second baseman in a Neiman-Marcus dressing room. Peter Lefcourt's THE DREYFUS AFFAIR is a made-for-Hollywood grand slam. Entertainment Weekly

Yeah, if only Hollywood had the guts and the creative moxie.

Here's the gist of it: Randolph MacArthur Dreyfus Jr., aka The Shovel, aka, Randy - America's golden-haired, baseball wonder-boy, the best-hitting, best-fielding shortstop in the Major Leagues and the very married father of two, has a bit of a problem. Quite without warning, he suddenly realizes that he is growing too fond of his second baseman, D.J. Pickett. Not hearty man-to-man, job-well-done, buddy, buddy baseball locker room fondness, no, this is the kind of fondness which if found out, would drum Randy right out of baseball, out of his MVP career, out of his marriage, out of his life! Goodbye to the Randy Dreyfus Shopping Center, goodbye to the endorsement deals. Goodbye to the money and adulation.

Randy loves baseball, loves his wife, loves his daughters. He tells himself he has the perfect life. Though of course there's Calvin, his Dalmatian dog, who hates Randy's guts and wastes no time peeing on Randy's legs whenever he gets the chance. But Randy has a plan in the works to deal with that.

Despite his sudden sexual confusion and the almost incident in the ballpark shower room which thankfully, no one saw, Randy hires a hit man to take out his dog because he can't focus on anything else at the moment except the fact that his life is going down the tubes. He doesn't have time to take the dog to the pound, he can't risk his kids finding out. This is a guy who is used to throwing money at a problem to make it go away. Besides, it's L.A., you can hire anyone to do anything.

The Dreyfus Affair is a hilarious book. It is also a very touching romance, a social satire, a great baseball book and a reminder, unfortunately, of where we are not when it comes to the acceptance of homosexuals in sports - not to mention, everyday life. The book was written in 1992, but I'm afraid nothing much as really changed since then. Even the advent and seeming acceptance of the brilliant award winning film, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN has done little to broaden the views of Hollywood. According to author Peter Lefcourt, this book has been in 'turn-around' screenplay hell for years.

Randy Dreyfus begins the story as an unsophisticated young baseball phenom, careless of his family life, fond of the earthy language of the locker room and proud of his athletic prowess. Over the course of the book he evolves into an unexpectedly likable and even, endearing character. That he is dumb-founded by what's happened goes without saying and to watch as he fumbles about trying to undo this 'thing' which has come upon him, is part of the book's charm. Early on, he goes to see a psychologist primarily because he can't think what else to do and maybe the doctor can prescribe something to make it all go away.

The door opened, and a man of about fifty appeared, wearing a lamb's wool sweater and baggy trousers and carrying a set of beads in his hand. His hair was thick and sprinkled with gray, his shoulders sagging, his lidded eyes half closed, his entire demeanor like that of a large lazy sheepdog.....Randy followed the doctor into an inner office, which was small and cozy, with rugs and throw pillows scattered around. There was no desk. Fuad sat down in an armchair and gestured for Randy to take a seat opposite him.

They sat there for a long moment as Randy scratched behind his ear, a nervous gesture he had little control over. It was dead quiet in the room, except for the sound of an aquarium air pump in the corner and the clicking of the worry beads.

"So, Mr. Dreyfus, why are you here?"

Jesus. The guy didn't f**k around. He cut right to the chase. Randy didn't know where to begin...

"I'm not sure," he finally mumbled.

"Why don't you just plunge right in."

Randy looked around him. The door was thirty feet away. He wondered if Fuad kept it locked to prevent people from escaping. If push came to shove he could always overpower the guy and get the keys. He looked like he couldn't take a hit.

"You see, the thing is, I've never been to a shrink before.'

Fuad nodded slowly, saying nothing.

"It's kind of hard to talk about this."

"I understand. But unless you talk about it, we can't get anything done, can we?"

Now Randy was nodding but he still wasn't talking.

"All right," the doctor said. "Let's pretend that you're not here about you, but that you're here about someone else, a friend. Your friend's got a problem. You're concerned. You want to help. So what's your friend's problem."

"He almost got a rod in the shower in Cleveland."

"Excuse me?"

"Doc, do you think it's possible for a guy who thinks Pia Zadora's a fox to be queer?"

Pia Zadora? Well, the book is from 1992. But, anachronistic show-biz names notwithstanding, the storyline is as topical as don't ask, don't tell. The thing I love about Dr. Fuad is that he knows NOTHING about baseball and Randy's more colorful colloquialisms go right by him. Yet he turns out to be just the sort of patient, un-shockable listener that Randy needs.

The unknowing object of Randy's sudden affection is Digger Johnson Pickett aka D.J. He is the L.A. Valley Viking's' premier second baseman, a repeat golden glove winner. He is African American, a loner, a guy not interested in locker room gossip. He wonders why Randy lately keeps flubbing routine plays and making errors left and right. When out of the blue his teammate, with whom he's never really been close, suddenly asks him out for Chinese food, D.J. wonders even more.

Peter Lefcourt not only understands the workings of professional baseball - the pressure cooker race to reach the post season - he also understands the workings of the human heart. He has written a wise, funny, crackpot scheme of an irresistible novel peopled with characters you will never forget and a satisfying resolution which will leave you smiling.

As for Calvin, let's just say that he has the good fortune to have had his distracted owner hire the most inept hit man in Los Angeles.


  1. Love this book. I'm so glad I'm not alone in that. I've read this book about 20 times and love it more everytime. I actually reviewed it earlier this year. Thanks for the fantastic review.

  2. Yeah, me too. I'm a HUGE fan - you're welcome. Don't worry, you're not alone. :) We had an awfully good discussion on TDA over at the Dave Cullen Forum many months ago when they had a book club thing going on. I think it was, maybe, a couple of years ago actually. It's a great book for book club. Something a little out of the ordinary.

  3. Lots of lovely description. :-)

  4. Thank you, Dave. :) This is one of my very favorite books.


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