At the end of this Montana road, at the foot of the Tobacco Root Mountains, sits the small town of Willow Springs. It’s a quiet town with a Methodist Church, a small café, and a very small high school. The town is debating whether to close the school and join a larger rural school district.
As Stanley Gordon West’s story Blind Your Ponies begins, it is the end of summer and teachers are returning to the high school. The school is known for its boys’ basketball team—the team hasn’t won a game in 5 years (they’ve lost 86 consecutive games, a record). Townsfolk gather at the Willow Creek Café to discuss the prospects for the coming season. The consensus is that this year will be like the last year; bet on it! But, they are wrong and that is West’s story.
Of course, there are girls’ sports at the high school, but they haven’t reached the level of fame of the boys’ basketball team. The girls’ coach is Diana Murphy who also teaches Natural Science. She drove down the lonely road to Willow Spring for the first time last January. She was an emergency replacement teacher and is now returning for her first full year at the school. Diane, as she is called, is from California. She left there to get away from a personal tragedy. She doesn’t want to think about what had happened in California and isn’t looking for relationships. It that sense, she is like many in Willow Springs; it’s a good town to hide in. You’ll find out more about that when you read the story.
Several years before Diane arrived at Willow Spring High School, Sam Pickett had driven down the road also. Like Diane, Sam was escaping his former life and was seeking refuge. He teaches English and he is the basketball coach—Sam loves basketball. He is a great motivator and coach, but the school is too small to be competitive. Sam can barely suit up 5 players for most games. They lose, but they don’t give up.
Sam’s career as basketball coach is a disaster; his teams are 0-86. Imagine that, 86 straight losses. As he prepares for the new school term, Sam suspects that the coming season will be winless again. But Sam doesn’t know that his team is about to change. Two potential players have arrived in Willow Springs. One is a tall playmaker from Chicago who is spending the year with his grandmother and the other is a 7 ft. tall exchange student from Norway. Sam imagines a 7 ft. tall player on his team. The thought gives him the shivers, but, unfortunately, the Norwegian has never played basketball.
Neither Sam nor Diane is looking for a new relationship. In fact they avoid contacting each other, but that is impossible in such a small school. One evening after practice, Sam is closing up the gym:
He noticed a sliver of light draining from the girls’ locker room. He knocked on the door and asked if anyone was there. Hearing no response, Sam stepped in, reached for the light switch, and was struck dumb by a vision he couldn’t immediately comprehend. Diana stood, naked and with her eyes closed, toweling her wet hair.
For a moment he couldn’t move or speak, couldn’t take his eyes off her firm athletic body. She bent forward and vigorously dried her long, almond colored hair. Her body consumed him like fire, sucking the air out of him.
When she opened her eyes and saw him, she gasped. Their eyes met for a second. Then, she ripped the towel around her torso and Sam turned around.
–Blind Your Ponies, eBook.
Well, Sam turned around, but there was no going back. They fought their growing attraction for each other, but . . .
Stanley Gordon West’s romantic novel Blind Your Ponies tells the story of Sam and Diane and the Once-In-A-Lifetime Willow Creek basketball team. This will be the season that ignites the moribund town and puts Willow Springs back on the map.
Blind Your Ponies was originally self-published. West toured Montana and sold his books from the trunk of his car. That is inspirational, I’m happy that it turned out good for him and he found a publisher.
This story is my choice for a summer read. It is set in Montana, and it has everything: there is suspense, drama, exciting action, tears, joy, and romance (and even a bit of discrete sex). Blind Your Ponies is an amazing tale of the real West. It is a story full of determination and ‘true grit’. Everyone is better off at the end of the story than they were when the story begins—what more could you ask for in a summer novel?
Week 23-2012: Blind Your Ponies, Stanley Gordon West (Algonquin Books, 2011, eBook).