Tim O’Connor is paid to be violent. He plays for the El Paso Storm in the West Texas Hockey League. People call him Oak. He’s been an enforcer for longer than his hip or shoulder or back have been able to hold together. He is a broken machine of gristle and rage. And he has been away from home for too long.
He’s called back to Boston by his mother’s death. There he confronts a life he failed to live, a daughter he doesn’t know, and a body that is quickly breaking down. Still, he can’t conceive of a future without hockey, even as he chews oxycodone and Adderall to numb his injuries and steady his brain. When a brutal encounter with the police places him in the path of Joan Linney, a haunted public defender, and Kip, a boy with a brave face, Oak and his chance companions roam cold streets from Castle Island to Quincy Point, struggling to believe in a different future.
In spare, potent language, Jeff W. Bens builds a remarkable character from the skates up. The Mighty Oak is a visceral and emotional experience. The fact of Oak’s physical existence is powerfully rendered, and the bone-deep transformation of his character is one you will not soon forget.
“The best book I’ve read this year. Absolutely brilliant.” —Jeff Pearlman, New York Times bestselling author
“A knock-out! Jeff Bens tackles male violence, the complexities of parenthood, and the contrary draw to both numbness and connection in wholly alive and thrilling ways.” —Lisa Muskat, producer of Joe and All the Real Girls
“The Mighty Oak introduces us to a character reminiscent of the great literary antiheroes. Written by Jeff W. Bens with an insight that balances the culturally astute and the brilliantly ambiguous with detours of unexpected humor, this is a portrait of an athlete’s multifaceted interior code: a hockey player, a brother, a father, a fighter, a lover, a friend. We lean in for a better understanding and discover a brilliant analysis of extraordinary talent and the vulnerabilities that often bleed from it.” —David Gordon Green, director, Halloween, Stronger, East Bound and Down, Pineapple Express
“Meet Tim ‘Oak’ O’Connor, a goon made of blood, sweat, and scars, ice shavings, painkillers, dashed hopes, and stadium dreams. In swift, note-perfect prose, Jeff W. Bens introduces an unforgettable antihero in one of the best novels you’ll read this decade.” —Kevin Cook, author of Tommy’s Honor and The Last Headbangers
“The best writing ransoms us from the captivity of self to allow glimpses of how the world looks to others, especially those radically unlike ourselves. From the first sentences, Jeff Bens drops us vividly, viscerally into the moment-to-moment of Tim O’Connor, a man who knows how it feels to lose vast expanses of self and world—and because he feels that loss, so do we.” —James Sallis, author of Drive
Jeff W. Bens is the author of the novel Albert, Himself. He teaches at Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York.