Henry Pimber’s got lockjaw. He’s a melancholic sort. He’s already commiserated with a fox trapped in a well, wondered at the depths of its misery, the depths of his own misery, and shot the thing dead out of pity. His marriage doesn’t seem great. There’s a new man in town, renting a house Henry owns down by the river, and he’s everything Henry isn’t: unthinking, serene, possessed of no great purpose but happy enough to do whatever needs doing. The man comes by and heals Henry. Mashes up some raw beets, binds them to his wound. By the time the doctor visits, Henry’s jaw is already loosening.
Henry doesn’t really know what to do with himself after he gets better. His melancholy intensifies. He meets the man in the woods to collect rent, studies him, tries to understand what’s so extraordinary about him. Was that why he loved [the man], Henry wondered. It wasn’t for his life—a curse, god knew; it wasn’t for the beet-root poultice. It lay somewhere in the chance of being new… in living lucky, and of losing Henry Pimber. Shortly after that revelation, Henry hangs himself.
William Gass is an unhappy man and Omensetter’s Luck is an unhappy book. Pimber commits suicide on page 74, then a howlingly bitter and nihilistic reverend takes over the narrative. “There’s no luck in the world and no god either,” he tells Henry’s oblivious torturer, whose kid is dying of diphtheria. Gass posits the mind’s interior as more or less indistinguishable from Hell. If this is every bit as tedious as it sounds, it’s also exceedingly well-rendered. Omensetter’s Luck reads like hopelessness feels.
Anyway, Markelle Fultz is on the trade block. He’s seeing yet another specialist about his mysterious shoulder injury. He suspects his right wrist might be screwed up too. Maybe it is, but also: c’mon. If Fultz has a serious, heretofore undiagnosed muscular disorder, it’s going to bear his name upon discovery, because it’s the first of its kind. It’s much more likely that he’s simply forgotten how to shoot, a problem that was perhaps first introduced by a bum shoulder and has now become its own unconquerable thing. Fultz seems vaguely unhappy with how the Sixers have handled it, and we don’t know what happens on the trainer’s table or in the coach’s office, but from the outside looking in, his discontent reads like buck-passing. Philly brought him along slow last year, then put him in the lineup when he was ready. They tried starting him at this season’s outset, to demonstrate their confidence in him. Neither approach worked. Fultz’s troubles aren’t really his fault—he’s the plaything of the cosmos at the moment—but they aren’t Brett Brown or Elton Brand’s either.
Of course, even if Fultz knows that, he’s not going to render himself so vulnerable as to admit it, stand emotionally naked in front of a bouquet of microphones and recording devices and say—what, exactly? I don’t know what I’m doing. Something’s wrong with me that I don’t understand. Athletes don’t do that. And at any rate, Fultz hasn’t actually said anything. The buzz that he feels wronged and wants out of Philadelphia is all Sources Say and Reports:. It’s probably his agent leaking this stuff. Agents, as a matter of professional policy, always find somebody other than their clients to blame.
Maybe there’s a way out of Fultz’s predicament, but it’s currently invisible. People assert that an athlete needs a change of scenery when they don’t know what else to say. You can stick Fultz in any color jersey you like, he’s still going to be a source of fascination and scrutiny. What the dude needs, if anybody’s got a time machine handy, is to have been selected 18th in 2017 draft, to be freed from his own infamy. Failing that, a trade to the Phoenix or Cleveland or wherever could help. He’ll exist on a team more peripheral to the NBA discourse, though the issue, at bottom, seems to be that he exists in the NBA at all: that he has to shoot the ball, which he cannot do for some reason, in front of cameras, with fans in attendance, knowing that if he doesn’t sort himself out soon, he’s going to be out of the league. He’s living under a kind of pressure he can’t handle. Put another way, he’s living under himself.
There’s a moment in Omensetter’s Luck when Henry Pimber feels the wind running against his hand and thinks of the man who saved his life, imagines himself as the brisk air moving through the man’s mitts. Time goes cooly through the funnel of his fingers, and so does Henry, and that’s when you know he’s doomed. When even the ordinary becomes wholly unenjoyable, an entry point into dread and yearning, there’s nothing to be done about it. Markelle Fultz can’t attempt a damn free throw with a calm mind. That’s some cognitive stank he might not be able to shake.
Whatever. Athletes aren’t literary figures. They’re not under manipulation by the hand of some author who needs them to mean something. Of course Fultz could come good; of course a breakthrough is possible. But if this were a written narrative from anybody but the most optimistic hack, you wouldn’t expect it. More likely than not, Fultz’s lot is to articulate suffering, a particular kind of loneliness where you lose even yourself. There’s no way out of it but through the thick bramble of his own mind. Get him to the airport, alright, but more importantly than that, get him a stiff drink and a machete. If he’s got any grip on his own future, the difficult, perhaps impossible work starts now.