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Fighting in the Shade


A riveting novel of ideas exploring the perils of hazing and feverish masculinity on a high school football team.

$15.95 $11.96

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What people are saying…

“High school football mixes with Faust in this blitz of a novel from Watson . . . the novel avoids slipping into morality tale excess as it spins out a big Dennis Lehane-like story of society, opportunity, and consequences, revealing Watson as an accomplished storyteller.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Honor, loyalty, even life and death form the core of this wrenching story.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Watson’s visceral descriptions of the physicality of sport are more than matched by his knowing depiction of small-town corruption in this fast-paced coming-of-age story.”

“A sleeper that sneaks up on you. Pitch it to old school readers who appreciate intelligent and hard-hitting novels that are more than sports books.”
Library Journal

Fighting in the Shade is less a sports novel than a coming-of-age story wound around a mystery, with football as symbol and symptom.”
St. Petersburg Times

“A brilliant, fearless look at the savage rites of passage that exist in the fraternity of American sports. A book as gripping and unforgettable as any in recent memory.”
Dennis Lehane, author of Mystic River and editor of Boston Noir

“The story of what it means to be a man in our culture is an important, vital narrative and it has found one of its best chroniclers in Sterling Watson. This is a powerful, beautifully written book about attitudes and practices that we want to believe are safely in the past. Instead, as Watson reminds us, corruption and cruelty survive through their uncanny ability to take on new shapes.”
Laura Lippman, author of I’d Know You Anywhere

“Sterling Watson’s Fighting in the Shade is an unflinching novel about loyalty and manhood. Like Pat Conroy’s The Lords of Discipline, it is simply unforgettable.”
—Ann Hood, author of The Red Thread

“Sterling Watson’s polished prose carries this coming-of-age story smoothly from the enthralling to the unsettling, from the poignant to the disturbing, leaving the reader in emotional knots. An uncompromising look at sports, secrets, sexuality, and the South—that makes a commentary on relationships ranging from personal to universal.”
—Michael Koryta, author of The Cypress House


In 1964, seventeen-year-old Billy Dyer is a newcomer to Oleander, a Gulf Coast Florida town whose old guard define football as the ancient Spartans did their Agoge. It is a mode of brutal tutelage that forges the hearts and minds of the town’s elite youth for a future of power. Billy’s parents are recently divorced and he lives in a bad neighborhood with his secretive, alcoholic father. Billy discovers in the course of the story that his attorney father has been forced by blackmail to serve Blake Rainey, the town’s most powerful and wealthy citizen, in a clandestine land-acquisition scheme that will raze the town’s black section.

Through the brutal and fiery days of summer practice, Billy fights for a starting spot on the team, the Spartans. He makes the team, but in a horrific hazing scene far from the town, he rebels and in the process badly injures his rival for the flanker position, Sim Sizemore, the son of Blake Rainey’s partner. The events that follow force Billy into exile from football, then later back into the game when powerful men realize that the Spartans cannot win without him. Blake Rainey offers Billy a Faustian bargain, and the boy must accept or reject the deal, while also accepting the consequences of this decision.

Book Details

  • Paperback: 330 pages
  • Published: 7/19/11
  • IBSN: 9781936070985
  • e-IBSN: 9781617750649


STERLING WATSON is the author of nine novels, including Sweet Dream Baby, Fighting in the Shade, Suitcase City, and The Committee, which was the 2021 Southern Literary Review book of the year. Watson’s short fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Prairie Schooner, the Georgia Review, the Los Angeles Times Book Review, the Michigan Quarterly Review, and the Southern Review. He was director of the creative writing program at Eckerd College for twenty years and now teaches at Lasell University in Newton, Massachusetts. Of his sixth novel, Suitcase City, Tom Franklin said, “If this taut literary crime novel doesn’t center Sterling Watson on the map, we should change maps.” Watson lives in Gulfport, Florida. Night Letter is his latest work.

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