To be perfectly honest, when I first got the email asking if I was interested in reviewing NIGHT WORK: THE SAWCHUK POEMS, I thought it was a book of poems by the legendary goalie. I immediately asked for a review copy because I just had to see what poems from an old school goalie would sound like. Eventually, I figured out this was actually a collection of poems by Randall Maggs about the legendary goalie. And while I’m neither a poetry guy nor a literary guy, I was very impressed by the book and its concept. It’s an imagining of the life of Sawchuk, told from multiple perspectives, and in prose form. Where a standard biography implies, forcing the reader to guess, Maggs has no qualms about putting us directly in his conceptualization of Sawchuk’s head, conveying the fears and insecurities of a talented athlete working in the oppressive system that was six-team NHL.
In a lot of ways, Maggs’ format makes for a much more rewarding biography. While he doesn’t know how Sawchuk felt coming up in the Red Wing organization, his speculation on Sawchuk’s feelings of guilt, fear, and anger sound about right. And since any biography is ultimately going to miss some important insights, I’d almost just as soon read the educated guesses of an imaginative fan.
A collection of poems based upon one very specific subject isn’t going to work consistently in all places, and NIGHT WORK is no exception. There are stretches that seem included more to set-up the next section of poems rather than out of a true desire to say anything, but for the most part, the poems are surprisingly enjoyable (Not a knock against poetry or Maggs. I just haven’t read poetry since I was an undergraduate. For the most part.). Maggs mixes perspective and style enough so that the story feels dynamic.
At it’s core, NIGHT WORK is historical fiction. It’s not a new genre, and the creative biography has been a film staple for years. Still, Maggs’ passion for Sawchuk makes for an interesting and entertaining read. Even if you’re not a huge Sawchuk fan, which I’m not, you have to love spending some time in the mind of a brilliant goalie.