Hampton, Michael Wayne. Roller Girls Love Bobby Knight. Oregon: Artistically Declined, 2014.
A pre-order advertisement for this book showed up in my Facebook feed a few months ago, and I ordered it because I loved the title, and I also like to support small independent publishers (Artistically Declined Press’s website is here; I must say that it vexes me that they do not list a specific city of publication, only a state. But the book did come with a nifty “Books Are Better” bookmark). I love roller derby and thought it would be cool to read a novel about it. The self-proclaimed “novella” (it is only 108 pages) showed up in my mailbox today and I read it immediately.
Unfortunately, Hampton’s story is a dud at best and offensive at worst. The premise is promising: a down-on-her-luck single mother and her younger daughter arrive in a small Kentucky town where her older daughter has just bought an old skating rink in order to stage roller derby bouts; hilarity ensues. But the story is never interested in these women as people, only as tits-and-ass. If the book had been written by a woman, it would be a fun story of female empowerment, but written by a man the female characters are just exploitative cardboard cutouts. They love flaunting their fantastic curves, are super heterosexual (which is frankly not an especially accurate portrayal of the roller derby world), and are desperate to find men to complete them even though the men in their lives are all terrible. They all use language that reads like an Onion parody of the dialogue from Steel Magnolias.
It is clear that Hampton is trying to make some sort of aesthetic statement about fiction with these simultaneously overly stylized and utterly flimsy characters, but he fails miserably. The writing isn’t thought-provoking, it’s just, well, dickish. This is sad because the novella has the potential to be so much more. The resurgence of roller derby over the past twenty years is a significant social development that deserves to be chronicled in literature, and Hampton’s observation that “[c]hicken fighting, boxing matches, football games, if it’s got honest people hurting each other these folks will eat it up” is an astute one about the role of sports in American society (57). But he fails to consider these subjects in any kind of thoughtful manner, instead using them as props for his misogynist tale.