From the get go Kray misleads you into thinking he’s recounting history when he references an article from Sports Illustrated on the story’s protagonist, Tack Strau. In classic Kray style he pulls you through a forest of picturesque metaphors while meandering through incidents real and concocted that lull you into thinking you’re finally getting the inside scoop on a mythical figure you somehow missed. As the story unfolds, you realize that’s how Tack would have wanted it, even if he didn’t plan it that way.
Ever notice how fictional movies represent reality better than the news of reality that is presented like a play gone wrong? That’s why, somewhere in your reading of The God of Skiing you’ll be compelled to see if the author has provided a way to help you decipher what is real and what is not. That’s where Kray reveals, “In order to tell what’s true, I made up a couple things.”
Tack is the ultimate skier, the epitome of a person who devotes their entire lives to skiing, and while avoiding mythical recognition, achieves mythical existence by staying true to a maniacal focus on skiing. Which is exactly what he does, by spinning a yarn about a fictional character that is built on the bits and pieces of real ski heros that the author has had the chance to mingle with and observe first hand.
In effect, Kray weaves a tale that mixes the warp of reality with the woof of imagination to give an accurate view of a skiers life as personified in the legendary Tack Strau. He was a skier’s skier, and he is made more real by comparison and contrast with some of North America’s ski heros, some fallen, like Doug Coombs and Shane McConkey, some still living like Bill Briggs.
Though it is 174 pages long, it is not a long book. At least not by the traditional metric of how many words are used to create the story. The format is small, the chapters short, but as is typical of Kray’s writing, it is rich in words that need to be chewed slowly to fully unfold the cultural panorama being described.
That’s the real charm of this book, as there are so many vignettes of a ski bums life you may identify with to such a degree you can’t help but wonder if Peter Kray was at one of your parties, the quiet one in the back that just watched everything and you didn’t know where he came from and sure as hell don’t remember his name. And now he’s writing about you, you were there too, or at least, you remember a scene like that only with different names on the faces.
So goes the legend of Tack Strau, a symbol of the guy that deep down inside we all wish we had the balls to be, and the few that do, don’t seem to last very long.
Kray does a masterful job of dealing with the fall of Strau, from myth to eternity. In a fitting and final eulogy Kray doesn’t have much say about how great Tack was, but instead bumbles out an awkward sort of goodbye that is probably a reflection of a wake for who knows who.
If you’re wondering why skiing doesn’t have a novel to describe the culture that has been created around the sport, only guidebooks and competitive records and stories of first descents, that has now changed with Peter Kray’s The God of Skiing. Get a copy and see how filled with fantasy reality can be.