A harrowing, intense, powerful new novel that reads like a classic, from one of the great writers of his generation.
Nineteen battles his way into the pros, becomes the quarterback, becomes the myth. Marries the owner’s daughter, touches greatness few will ever dream of, retires into what he assumes will be the promised afterlife of days on the golf course, celebrity endorsements, and cushy real estate investments. But markets tank, family disintegrates, fame fades, and the holes in his mind and memory from a career of punishment on the field become too large and frightening to ignore. When he hears of a miracle brain damage treatment forbidden in the U.S., he travels to the Mosquito Coast of Honduras in search of a chance to restore himself to the man he was. Instead, he finds himself on a journey that plunges him into a darkness more violent and horrific than he could have possibly imagined—at once a fight for his life and to hold onto the shards and fragments of the life he’s fighting for.
A sports saga, sprawling thriller, and existential reckoning with the rot at the core of the west, told by an unheralded, singular master, Pure Life is a daring, complex, and brutal confrontation with and demolition of our modern myths in the most primal of settings—one as perilous as it is imperiled.
Marten (Waste) delivers a relentless and vivid story of a retired football player who has gladly sacrificed his mind and body to the sport. The protagonist, known only as "Nineteen" for his jersey number, is a left-handed quarterback from "the middle of America" who becomes an NFL star despite his modest physical gifts. In an engrossing impressionist rush, Marten chronicles Nineteen's high school, college, and professional career with "The Only Team That Matters," brilliantly capturing the "Dadaist poetry" of play calls, the blur of moving bodies, and the numbing catalog of injuries ("All the Latin words for pain"). Within 40 pages, Nineteen is retired, but his Lear-like suffering has just begun. He goes bankrupt after failed real estate investments, gets divorced, drinks to excess, and attempts suicide. Episodes of short-term memory loss allude to possible brain damage from his multiple concussions. After traveling to Honduras for experimental stem cell treatment, he joins a dangerous tour of the Mosquito Coast, where he encounters new levels of violence and degradation among roving paramilitary gangs. The adventure produces memorable scenes and suspense, but its lurid, action movie qualities jar with Marten's intense psychological portrait of a fallen idol. Messy and fascinating, this blitzes the reader with a disorienting stream of language and genres.