© Copyright – 2024 – Athletics Illustrated

Title: The Frontrunner

Author: Brad Fawley

Genre: Fiction (a novel)

Publisher: Green Writers Press (GWP)

Pages: 405

Publish date: April 9, 2024

ISBN: 979-8-9876631-6-5

The review

Within every compelling story, fictional or otherwise, the author almost always must develop the antagonist character — the bad guy. Two recent running novels find the authors making the Russians out to be the bad guys including in the novel, The Frontrunner by Brad Fawley.

Why not? As Oscar Wilde taught us in the Decay of Lying in 1891, life imitates art. For example, the beauty of fog was first depicted by a landscape painter using oil on canvas. Only then did we appreciate the beauty of the gray, low-hanging shroud that dampens sound, skews our vision, and sometimes makes our bones go rattly cold. The story here paints some of the picture — but just a glimpse — of life as an athlete in Russia.

In times of war, Russia seems backward. The grand retreat when Napolean’s Army attacked in 1812 was a misstep of historical proportions. Tsar Alexander forced the army and peasants to flee, but first, they had to burn everything. Burn down buildings, industry and infrastructure — dubbed the Scorched Earth Policy. Sure, in the end, Russia was not conquered by the French but the behemoth nation barely survived by the stalemate result. Many died. There was no win. Some called it brilliant, others a complete failure.

During the Second World War, Hitler’s Nazis moved in and again the Russians retreated destroying all of their own land, forests, infrastructure, and crops, and the cities were left empty. It was an atrocity.

The third time the charm? Perhaps not. So much framework and architecture is currently being repurposed for war but Ukraine is destroying the installations. Self-destruction is possible, the West claims it’s imminent. Tsar Alexander, eat your heart out, Stalin, off to the hills to hide! Putin, an admirer of Stalin, is allegedly failing right now before the eyes of the world, in high definition broadcast by CNN, Al Jazeera the BBC, and others — this must be embarrassing.

As the saying goes, the definition of insanity is the act of repeating the same thing over and over again expecting a different result each time.

Continuing on the premise of borrowing from literary others, it was George Santayana in The Life of Reason, in 1905 who wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” And Walter Cronkite’s, “War itself, is of course, a form of madness. It’s hardly a civilized pursuit.”

During the 1980s, when Russian hockey players defected to Canada and the U.S., to play in the National Hockey League, it was the celebrated centreman with the Vancouver Canucks, Igor Larionov, who spoke openly to the media about Russian institutional doping forced upon the athletes. This continues today. Russian doping is systematic and the Russian Olympic Committee, The Russian athletics authority, and the anti-doping agency were called onto the red carpet and banished from international competition. Currently, World Athletics refuses to let the Russians compete in the 2024 Paris Olympic Games, while the turncoat International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach campaigns in their favour. Ironically, he is German.

But, of course, authors need also to develop the protagonist, the good guy.

In the novel, The Frontrunner, Author Fawley’s protagonist is a small-town poor American boy who is chastened and attempts to succeed once he discovers his love for running exposes potential talent.

Interestingly, the anticipation of the typical storyline toward winning the girl; the damsel in distress, takes several turns against it happening. Not only is “the girl,” not a damsel in distress, she is in fact, potentially going to save the protagonist. Voila! A twist! it’s Clayton who needs saving. For the reader, just when life is seemingly in order, Clayton is torn away and back home to care for his ailing father. He sacrifices his love interest, education, and athletic career to care for the only living relative active in his life.

Cheering for Russ Clayton is natural when his progression toward potential elitism is developed. It is later in the grittier moments when the hardening of the man takes place, the reader will find the pages begin to turn faster. Perhaps Fawley was inspired by Rocky IV, when Balboa trains by chopping wood and running in the snow, while Russian Ivan Drago takes anabolic steroids and trains in a state-of-the-art facility. And there is a little of Quenton Cassidy in there too. Cassidy is the true damsel in distress in John L. Parker’s Once a Runner and was hardened in a cabin in the woods where he ran massive volumes. And of course, there was the legendary workout, where he ran the final 20 of 60 full-out 400s alone, the hardest things must be done alone, to discover your true self. Clayton has his cross to bear and discovery workout to do too, sans coach.

And yes, in The Frontrunner, the Russians doped, and are bad guys. They are evil twins in a system eerily similar to the one described by David Marsh in The Russian Affair, a retelling of the careers of anti-doping officer Vitaly Stepanov and wife and athlete Yulia Stepanova. The fictional twin’s relationship is in conflict and in the end one shall stand above the other at all costs, but does he stand above Clayton on an athletics podium? That is the question.

There are several unexpected twists and turns, a sub-plot or two. You will have to read the story when it comes out in April to find out. It’s entertaining enough to warrant investing the time to read it; it’s art telling informing life.

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