Deadline by Chris Crutcher

deadline Crutcher’s novel is the story of an adolescent boy who learns that he has a terminal illness. It starts off pretty much with the protagonist, Ben Wolf, getting his diagnosis. We then experience his final year of life, which is also his senior year of high school, through his eyes, while he makes his best attempt to live every day as if it is his last. The catch; he doesn’t tell anyone that he is dying, and refuses to be treated for his “blood disease.” When you enter into this world that Crutcher has created, Ben’s world, you cannot look at the story through a magnifying glass, but take it at face value. That is what I felt while reading it. Even though there are so many details not thoroughly explained and so many storylines that may seemed chopped, the focus of the story is how the protagonist chooses to take control of the limited time he has left, and experience things he probably would not have if he were not going into it with his own expiration date in mind. He joins the football team, which in itself is a major feat since we are informed of his small build, he talks and begins to date the girl of his dreams, and expresses his opinion all the time on every issue, even at the expense of his history teacher. Even though the main story line is Ben’s impending death, there are so many other issues that are brought to light in the story: mental illness, rape, molestation, suicide, religion. I think that this book would best be taught to a senior class due to the subject matter. While reading I thought of activities that could be partnered with the novel, and I think it would be nice to give the students some power by letting them rewrite any part of the story. I would be compelled to have Ben try some course of treatment for his “blood disease” giving him a shot to live. Also setting goals. Ben uses his limited time by making a list of things he wants to accomplish and books he wants to read. Another activity would be to have the students make a list of their own goals for the school year, and then have a follow up at the end of the year to see how many they accomplished. Deadline is a novel that I intend on recommending, because I think it is a well written story that can touch anyone who reads it. AH

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One thought on “Deadline by Chris Crutcher

  1. I was initially put off by Deadline. I found the premise absurd, an 18 year old deciding not to fight his “blood disease” insuring his death. I found some of the writing to be…let’s just say less than lyrical. One example: There’s not one part of Dallas Suzuki’s face or body that is in any way Miss World, but you put it all together and I’d swim through five hundred yards of molten turds to listen to her fart into a paper sack over the telephone.”
    I imagine this is Crutcher’s notion of a teenager thinking about love. Maybe it’s me, but if I just did the breast stroke through five hundred yards of molten turds, I’m hoping for a little more than a fart in a paper sack, and then just over the telephone.
    Ben, the narrator and protagonist, is both ambitious and resigned to die, but somehow this resignation allows him to attempt and seemingly accomplish all his goals. Of course playing high school football while you are dying does seem a tad optimistic. But being a hero for the season through all his great plays felt impossible, considering his slight build as well. But there is a fantasy aspect to this story.
    Ben, of course, gets the girl rather easily, without the necessity of swimming the River Turd. I was also put off by his dream discussions with Hey-Soos.
    But about two-thirds into it, the story began to gel for me. The story seems to be not so much about succeeding but about being genuine. He felt it necessary to hide his illness from everyone except the medical folks, because that would prevent him from attaining his goals. But it became increasingly apparent to him through his talks with Hey-Soos, who is either Jesus or his higher self, that he must come clean to everyone. This is where conflict and the real drama of the story rises. And as he goes around confessing to each vital character in his life, he takes his punishment, particularly with Dallas. His relationship with the town drunk, a defrocked priest is a painful reminder of avoiding authenticity.
    There is much tragedy in this novel. YA novels seem to pile up emotionally charged issues. Every character seems to have some tragedy in their past. Issues that are explored in this book include rape, pedophilia, bipolarism, suicide, alcoholism, child abuse, and premature death. Am I missing any others?
    Now how would I teach Deadline? The general premise is a young man has one year to live his life. He lives it to the hilt doing all the things he wants–his bucket list. So my question to my class might be, if you had one year to live, what would you do? And why? Explain. Perhaps one of the classes I could teach would include an excerpt from Bucket List the movie.
    If I were to make Deadline an anchor book for a unit, what would that unit be about? What are the themes?
    Death, secrets, truth, freedom to be oneself, in other words authenticity.
    Secrets seem to be an ongoing theme in the novel. Many of the characters have secrets that they keep because of shame. Rudy, the defrocked priest is ashamed of his pedophilia, and guilty of the young man’s suicide; Dallas’s secret is that her brother is in fact her son, a product of rape.
    And of course, there’s Ben’s big secret which animates the tale. But it is the unveiling of these secrets that give solace. Even Rudy, who most readers might find objectionable, is forgiven by Ben on some level.
    Another idea for an essay: have you ever harbored a secret that once you divulged it, you were unburdened and even happy? This might be an essay that students could have alternatives to. I like the idea expressed above about rewriting some of the story if Ben decided to take medications instead of forgoing them.
    If I had them write a bucket list essay, I might also have them write a short story or scenario having them “do” one of their goals on their bucket list.
    David Breitkopf

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