City Book Review: Roller Rink Starlight


I wrote an editorial review for Roller Rink Starlight.  It was phenomenal.  Here’s my review:

Despite the title and preface, Roller Rink Starlight doesn’t have a whole lot to do with competitive speed skating. Sure, there’s some skating action in here—several chapters are chock full of arcane skating lingo, race times, and second-by-second retellings of pivotal races. But speed skating is merely the thread that ties together the various essays and short stories of this memoir. Author William Hart makes clear he was only particularly skilled in one area—the sprint—and he gradually becomes aware in his final year on the team that even there he was losing his competitive edge (not to mention, his interest in the sport).

Readers will more often be treated to the inner thoughts of teenage Hart as he navigates high school, religion, and personal relationships in the early 1960s. Although he’s as mercurial, impulsive, self-centered, and hopelessly aroused as the next young man, his experiences are colored by a much older William Hart—a man who has gained valuable insights into his younger self’s thoughts and ambitions. Evaluations of his teenage years are so frank and honest that I sometimes felt like I was sneaking a peek at Hart’s private diary.

He spends his formative years at his local rink, hanging out with friends and participating in myriad skating activities. Couples skates, playing limbo, things like that. Over time we get to know his friends, the DJ, the owners, his skating team coach, and many other rink denizens. It’s sure to bring fond memories to anyone who spent any number of childhood weekends at a skating rink. As soon as young William Hart strapped on his skates and rolled onto the oval, my own long-dormant memories resurfaced like a basketball suddenly released underwater. The disco balls, the loud music. The circular, carpet-covered benches. That suffused smell of popcorn and sugar and deodorizers. It’s surprising how little skating rinks have changed since the 1960s.

William Hart’s memoir is as captivating as it is well written, with rich, evocative prose and intriguing snippets of historical events of the 50s and 60s. Anyone who picks this up is bound to be pleasantly surprised by the poignant, coming-of-age tale under its somewhat garish cover. The ending is especially surprising, and I can’t help but wonder whether the final revelation occurred to Hart at the very same moment he typed the last words. This book is highly recommended.