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Friday, March 6, 2015

Terry Davis

At a glance
Vision Quest
by Terry Davis

Delacorte Books
256 pages, $7.95

Louden Swain is crazy.

OK, that may be a little extreme. But how else would you describe a guy who, against the advice of virtually everyone else in his life, decides to end his high school wrestling career by moving down from the 154-pound class "where," he says, "I'm already lean" to 147?

His reason: He wants to test himself against Shute, a 147-pounder who is the best wrestler in Washington state even though, as he says, he and his dad "are pretty sure Shute is going to grind my body into the green surface of our David Thompson High School wrestling mat."

Welcome to "Vision Quest" (Delacorte Books, 256 pages, $7.95 paper), the 1979 novel by Terry Davis that is to high school wrestling what Sigmund Freud is to psychoanalysis.

And which just happens, as well, to be the March reading selection of The Spokesman-Review Book Club.

The reference to Freud isn't just an exercise in glibness. Throughout "Vision Quest," pretty much everyone questions Louden's sanity.

But that's the point, you see. As the book's title suggests, it's only when you look deep into your inner self either through fasting on a mountaintop like an Indian brave, or while testing yourself to the limits the way Louden does that you discover the essential truths about life.

"That's the idea of it all," Louden says in the book, "to discover who you are and who your people are and how you fit into the circle of birth and growth and death and rebirth."

Most people know of "Vision Quest" through the 1985 movie, which was filmed in Spokane starring Matthew Modine as Louden and Linda Fiorentino as his live-in girlfriend Carla.

Today the movie is remembered most for its music-video numbers by a then-little-known singer named Madonna.

The novel, though, long ago earned cult status. Although it was out of print for several years, tattered copies of it could be found tucked away in gyms all over the country.

For the better part of the past two decades, Davis has taught creative writing, screenwriting, fiction and adolescent literature as a member of the English department at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

The Spokane native was born in 1947. He was a wrestler himself at Shadle Park High School, then studied at Eastern Washington University, at the University of Iowa Writer's Workshop (where he took classes from novelist John Irving) and at Stanford University.

It was at Stanford that he began writing what would be come "Vision Quest." Published only after being rejected more than 30 times, the novel sold some 10,000 copies in its initial run.

Davis' second novel, "Mysterious Ways," didn't do as well. And, as Davis would admit later, he then suffered a bout of depression that lasted for some 15 years.

Despite this, he saw his third novel, "If Rock and Roll Were a Machine," published in 1993. And he's managed to stay busy, writing short fiction, working on various screenplays and even completing "Presenting Chris Crutcher," a 1997 biography of his close friend, and another young-adult writer with Spokane ties.

All three of Davis' novels have been reprinted, including "Vision Quest," most recently by Random House's imprint, Delacorte Books.

It is "Vision Quest," though, in which Davis' talent most brightly burned.

"Honest and funny and altogether true to life," the novel is "about people so thoroughly decent and attractive that one wants to reach out and embrace them all," wrote critic Jonathan Yardley.

And none less than Irving, Davis' former professor and author of such novels as "Cider House Rules" and "A Prayer for Owen Meany," called "Vision Quest" the "truest novel about growing up since 'The Catcher in the Rye.' "

Impressive stuff. Now you get to have your say.

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