Whompyjawed: 1. Askew, out of place 2. Off-center or crooked 3. (informal) a person of eccentric or questionable character; odd.
Football is Willy Keeler’s ticket out of West Texas, but only if he can keep the explosive combination of his intellect and hormones from destroying his high-school career. Not an easy task as he also contends with the endless demands of his girlfriend, mother, coach, and college recruiters. When a startling sexual encounter with a classmate and a consuming infatuation with one of his mother’s friends threaten to shatter his fragile balance, Willy discovers that simply figuring out who he is may be the greatest challenge of all.
Reminiscent of The Catcher in the Rye and The Last Picture Show, Mitch Cullin’s Whompyjawed is an unforgettable coming-of-age story, told with unparalleled humor and compassion.
Willy Keeler, a na ve but occasionally prescient high school senior and star football player, comes of age in Cullin's debut novel, revealing the injustices of his small hometown of Claude, Tex., while seemingly unconscious of his own sensitivity. Willy is fielding offers from college football teams, and he follows the process obediently: when his coach gives him a list of stock responses for a newspaper interview (including "you're learning," "you're improving" and "you play with emotion"), he blurts them all out for the Amarillo Daily News reporter. He dates Hanna, a gorgeous, academically serious girl whose father intends to steer the couple apart. Then Willy meets Ramona, a sexually seasoned older woman from Amarillo, who promises more illicit fun than the prudish Hanna. Being with Ramona proves to be more complicated than it first seems, however, when Willy encounters a group of thugs who are her entourage. Because perpetually wide-eyed Willy narrates most of the book in a guileless tone, readers must read the irony into his misadventures and draw connections that he may not make himself. Suspension of disbelief is tested when Willy's brother summarizes "The Swimmer," the Cheever tale of suburban malaise. The sophistication of the reference seems forced, and the intended parallel between Willy and Cheever's protagonist falls flat. However, the novel is distinguished by its honesty, eliciting comparison to such precursors as Larry McMurtry, Erskine Caldwell or even Sherwood Anderson. A few missteps aside, Cullin's evocation of small-town Texas and his skill in rendering Willy's vernacular country-boy voice mark him as a writer with potential.