90s Nostalgia in "The Rome of Fall"

The Fiction Addiction

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The Rome of Fall(cover art from the publisher)

The Rome of Fall, by Chad Alan Gibbs, blends 90s nostalgia, small-town football obsession, and Julius Caesar for a strangely familiar coming-of-age story.

Everyone in Rome, Alabama, loves football, except new kid Marcus Brinks, who’ll even fake a heart condition to get out of playing. Everyone in Rome also loves, uh, Rome, with Trevi’s restaurant, a ludi Romani triumphant after-win party, and a heated rivalry with neighboring Carthage.  Some of it feels like a cute small-town theme, but the high-school teachers all have Roman emperor names, and we’re talking the also-rans of Roman Civ 101, like Galba and Severus, and this is never addressed.  No opportunity for a Roman name is skipped… except the local paper is called the Riverton Times, a missed opportunity to call the sports page Trajan’s Column.

Thank you, my degree in classics is very useful.

The 1990s high school scenes are full-on on nostalgia, with passing paper notes in class and  listening to new CDs, full of sharp sensory memories for my generation. It’s a dreamlike return to pre-tech socializing, without any boomer whining about kids these days and all their screen time.

After high school, Marcus wrote one perfect grunge-rock album, dedicated to an ex-girlfriend, before having a mental breakdown, and disappearing. With his mom in hospice back in Rome, Marcus returns to care for her and teach high-school English (apparently he got a teaching license in between high-profile arrests). Marcus’ students are much more interested in why he’s not rich than in reading Julius Caesar, but either way, football is still the main interest in Rome. 

His old friend Jackson is the successful, egotistical football coach (JC nabbed power after Coach Pumphrey the Great). The Quarterback Club finds JC’s arrogance insufferable and really wants to take him down. There’s no doubt that Caesar’s heading for disaster, with hints from the open-carry campus to his wife’s prophetic dreams, but that doesn’t mean this is gonna be predictable. 

The only kind of sour note is that Marcus’ dreamgirl, Becca, was slightly flat, much more of an object than a person. She’s frequently described as hot and beautiful, but Marcus is so obsessed with whether she’s paying attention to him that she doesn’t seem to have any personality. Does she actually like football, Kurt Cobain, being a teacher, any of the men she’s dated? Does she have any goals or desires of her own? She’s very much Marcus’ personal MacGuffin, but the rest of the story carries it.

It is impossible to avoid describing this 1990s alt rock coming-of-age story as a bittersweet symphony of life.

Thanks to Reedsy for the ARC! Bookblogging friends, you can sign up here for free books to review.

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