The Front Runner - Patricia Nell Warren

“The angel of death had cruised him. Death, that hustler, that last lover.”


Published between the era of Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best, and the AIDS crisis, The Front Runner is a very blunt and honest look at homosexuality in the world of American sports, circa 1975. By its time’s standards — as well as the current day — this book is progressive; the ideas are daring, the revelations unflinching. The front cover calls it “controversial” and “unusual” and “as moving as any love story ever written.” I would agree with all those descriptors. What is this novel? It is a tragedy.


The first person narrator is a college track coach quickly entering middle age. In the fall of ‘74 he received three candidates for his team — three boys kicked out of their previous school for their homosexuality. He, the coach, being gay himself, takes them under his wing; a romantic relationship between he and one of the boys soon develops.


This book is almost certain to make any reader a little uncomfortable; good literature does that. This challenges every societal norm of its time and even some that are still in place today. While a bit excessively dated at times (some of the male characters are a bit too chauvinistic for my tastes), this story can be enjoyed by modern audiences. The pacing, too, is an issue — the middle is a bit of a slog, at times — but the noteworthy beginning and extraordinarily written finale more than make up for it.