Author: Don DeLillo
First published: 1972
Locale: Western Texas
Time: c. 1970
Gary Harkness, a star halfback for Logos College in western Texas. The talented Gary, in his early twenties, goes to Logos College after personal anxieties had destroyed his athletic career at Syracuse, Pennsylvania State, Miami, and Michigan State universities. He seems cursed by a terminal case of spiritual sloth generated by his sense of the world's meaninglessness, a despair that is intensified by his preoccupation at Logos with vivid hallucinations of nuclear catastrophe. Only in the structured patterns enacted on the football field does he find any order in existence (“sport is a benign illusion, the illusion that order is possible”). After the high excitement of Logos' most crucial football game, Gary feels overwhelmed by his nihilism and gives up to endure hospitalization.
Taft Robinson, Logos'only black student, a brilliant football star recruited from Columbia University. Taft not only has a sprinter's speed and runs the hundred in 9.3 seconds but also is a bright and reflective young man who rooms alone and sometimes finds his gift for sports to be a burden. He is one of Gary's closest friends.
Anatole Bloomberg, a three-hundred-pound left tackle on offense. Anatole is Gary's good friend and roommate who shares the alienation of Gary and Taft, all three of them being loners by nature as well as northerners who find themselves in western Texas. Anatole has come to Texas to “unjew” himself, as he puts it. He suffers from bed-wetting and refuses to expose his flesh to the Texas sun. Much of his malaise is caused by the “enormous nagging historical guilt” that he confides he feels as a Jew.
Myna Corbett, Gary's classmate in Mexican geography who becomes his close friend. The 165-pound Myna shares much of Gary's nihilism. She is blessed with half a million dollars but cursed with blotches on her face. She swathes herself in gold chains, Victorian shawls, and patchwork skirts. She refuses to lose weight and take care of her face on the grounds that her physical condition relieves her of the responsibility of being beautiful.
Emmett Creed, the head football coach at Logos. The mythic Creed, known to the press as Big Bend, is a “man's man” who was voted All-American in college, flew a B-27 in World War II, and played halfback for the Chicago Bears before achieving a series of triumphs in various coaching jobs. For Creed, football is “only a game,” but “it's the only game.” He exhorts his players to “Write home on a regular basis” and “Don't ever get too proud to pray.” Under his hard exterior, Creed has much in common with Gary, who observes that “He seems always to be close to a horrible discovery about himself.”
Bing Jackmin, a field-goal kicker. Bing is one of the most notable of Gary's teammates and contributes some of the most beguiling and amusing small talk in the novel. Gary notices that his eyes seem crazed by sun or dust or inner visions.
Major Staley, the commander of the Air Force ROTC unit at Logos. The thirty-eight-year-old major teaches a course in aspects of modern war, and Gary sits in on the major's fluent disquisitions on missiles and megatons.
Esther and Vera Chalk, friends of Myna and Gary. The Chalk sisters compliment Myna's neatness and her breadless organic picnic sandwiches with raw carrots and celery tonic. They find numerological mysteries that bind numbers and raw vegetables, and they think of seventeen when they munch their carrots.