Right on the cover of “Make It, Take It” (Cinco Puntos Press, 191 pages, $14.95) it says, “a novel by Rus Bradburd.” But the book, which centers on college basketball, is really a set of linked short stories rather than a novel. This may seem like a small distinction, but it is central to finding one’s way through the book.
Understood as stories — and the acknowledgments make it clear that much of the text has been previously published as individual stories — the book’s shifting points of view and lengthy passages that don’t link back to the putative primary narrative are far less troublesome.
For example, my favorite chapter in the book, “Custodian,” is a powerful piece of writing about dignity, respect for others and coming to terms with one’s own life. It stands alone quite well. But Jerry-rigged into a “novel,” it breaks the flow of the story, introduces characters we never see again, and lays no groundwork for the rest of book.
Two chapters that are presented as college student essays are also distractions. In order to advance his plot, Bradburd uses the faux-essay conceit as a device for two players to confess to various mistakes and deceptions. Because it is difficult to imagine the players in question using their coursework as a confessional, these passages might have been more successful if presented as first person narrations similar to some of the other chapters in the book.
“Make It, Take It” has some eye-opening things to say about some aspects of college sports, and a few of its characters (notably, often not the featured characters) are well-drawn and memorable. But the attempt to take stories and blend them together into a novel comes up short.