Review: The Whore of Akron

The_whore_of_akron-book_jacket_medium

A little under halfway through Scott Raab's The Whore of Akron: One Man's Search for the Soul of LeBron James, Raab invokes Frederick Exley. Exley's first book, A Fan's Notes, details the author's addiction, obsession, and insanity, all in the context of cheering on New York Giants star halfback Frank Gifford. A Fan's Notes is one of my favorite books of any genre, and it's an undeniable analog for Raab's own first book, which details the author's tortuous journey through addiction, obsession, and insanity, only now in the context of MIami Heat star forward LeBron James. Raab cuts straight through the literary comparisons, though, and highlights what Exley and he share at their basic cores.

Exley recall[ed] a fan letter from a shrink who, deeply moved, [told] Exley, "he had never before encountered a man so haunted by a sense of place."

I have met such a man. His face fills my mirror every time I brush my teeth.

The place haunting Raab is undoubtedly Cleveland. He still has his ticket stub from December 27, 1964—the day that the Cleveland Browns defeated the Baltimore Colts and delivered the city's last championship, with a 12 year old Raab in the stands—and he writes that the stub is evidence of the day he saw God, the only time God let his light shine on Cleveland's fans. Raab is, by his own admission, an addict, having struggled mightily with substance abuse of all stripes in his life and much of the book is devoted to investigating Raab's addictions, both the history of his substance abuse and the emotional state that led to it. It's through the lens of his addiction that Raab's obsession with place is explained.

Until relatively late in life, Raab struggled to both love and be loved; he describes highly dysfunctional relationships with his parents, siblings, and first wife. It wasn't until his second marriage, and the birth of his son, that he was finally able to enter serious recovery, staying sober through the strength of those relationships. The pits of addiction are often equated to a death wish, to a desire to totally escape a world that offers nothing in the user's view—how, then, did Raab, surrounded by so many dysfunctional relationships, manage to survive 30 years of substance abuse? What did he live for until the relationships he needed, those with his second wife and his son, appeared? From my reading of his book, Cleveland kept him alive, his relationship with place. With no one to live for, he lived for his hometown; instead of cherishing a family photo or a girlfriend's senior picture, he cherished that stub.

As a result, Raab is obsessed with Cleveland and fiercely loyal to it, and he reads this loyalty into other Clevelanders as well as into LeBron James. When James leaves the city, he's not just walking away from a basketball team; he's walking away from the community that, for thirty plus years, filled the author's lungs when he was unable to fill them himself. That Raab is furious with James is not surprising.

The stub is a litmus test. Dan Gilbert fawns over it, refusing to hold onto it for luck, afraid he'll lose it. Jim Brown doesn't realize its import, doesn't even realize Cleveland hasn't won a championship since that day. When Raab describes it to Shaquille O'Neal, the aging star just says "Alright." Raab knows that things are different for elite athletes, that they don't inhabit the fan's perspective readily, that they rarely see their accomplishments and legacies as inextricably linked to team and town. At the same time, the author can't believe that Lebron's feelings towards Cleveland don't mirror his own or other natives'. Loyalty to place, love of community, these things were a lifeline for Raab, and James has the ability to bring God's light back to that place, that community. Who would walk away from that?

James walks away, of course, and Raab shadows the Miami Heat for the superstar's first season there, looking for clues as to what makes a man act with the dishonor that characterized LeBron's choice for Raab. He finds little and what he does find doesn't easily reconcile with his worldview. When Chris Rock tells Raab that James' infamous "LOYALTY" tattoo has nothing to do with Cleveland, but instead references James' childhood friends, whom Raab despises, the assertion goes unrefuted.

Raab never lets LeBron off the hook in any substantial way, although near the end of the book the author plumbs the depth of his love for his son, and it's obvious that the hate he feels towards LeBron is not close to being his most strongly felt emotion. His hate for LeBron is actually a thank you note to Cleveland, the place that helped him survive and, in turn, allowed him to build a family and life he now cherishes. His animosity towards James is a fraction of his gratitude for Cleveland which, in turn, is a fraction of his love for family.

The Whore of Akron is crisply, if crassly, written and can be finished quickly. More barbaric yawp than cohesive argument, it's 300 pages of extreme emotion in the name of Cleveland. At the same time, the book rewarded me for spending some extra time with it, unsurprising given Raab's obvious gifts as a writer. If nothing else, Raab's mental filing cabinet of Cleveland-centered stories, apocryphal and not, is a wonder to behold. If you feel strongly about James and his actions in either direction, then you're likely going to find the book either unreadable or gospel, depending on those preconceived feelings. I actually suspect there's more here for neutral readers, who can dig into Raab and his conflicting emotions without having to deal with their own.

The Whore of Akron is widely available, online at Amazon and elsewhere, as well as at most booksellers. You can learn more at the book's website. I received a free review copy. Image via www.freshwatercleveland.com

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join Let's Go Tribe

You must be a member of Let's Go Tribe to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Let's Go Tribe. You should read them.

Join Let's Go Tribe

You must be a member of Let's Go Tribe to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Let's Go Tribe. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.

tracking_pixel_9351_tracker