American novelist Don Delillo's second novel, first published in 1972. Delillo's work seems to oscillate between "Long 'n Heavy" (Libra and Underworld) and "Short n' Funny/Ironic" (White Noise and Running Dog). End Zone easily falls into short and funny camp. It's good all the way through, like a stick of butter.
There are familiar Delillo themes here, in their early forms. The book dwells on the hyperreality of collegiate life, something we later see shades of in White Noise. There is the position of preeminence that sports have come to occupy in secular America. The invisible global powers of thermonuclear war and simulation irradiate the entire narrative (Libra and White Noise).
The narrator is Gary Harkness, running back for Logos College of West Texas. Gary is racked with the usual collegiate early 20's angst, perceiving the world through a filter of existential crisis and thermonuclear games theory. The book is a meditation on the overlap and analogs between football, college, nuclear war, and simulation. How Delillo managed to connect these things is still something of a mystery to me, but he does it so seamlessly that it almost seems obvious by the time he's done.
Similar to White Noise it contains a magnificent set piece hidden within the heart of the book - In WN we have the "Airborne Toxic Event" in EZ, Delillo gives us the great game. The narrative is presented in 3 parts, and the game occupies an entire third. This game narrative is the object analog to the entire artistic thrust to the book. The language is so formalized, so sintered and annealed with jargon, euphemism, and turns of phrase that it becomes almost meaningless. And yet, somehow energized by the gilded weight of this distancing speech, the game takes on a Homeric scope and energy.
It's all here. If I were to recommend a Delillo starting point, it would be this or White Noise. The voice trapped inside Harkness is one of Delillo's great achievements. It's almost as if the running back when on to graduate school to become our beloved Professor Gladney of WN. It's hilarious, and at the end so surgically ironic it becomes genuinely moving.