Gary Wolf, The Kicker of St. John’s Wood (2009)
209 pages (trade paperback), $15.95, ISBN 978-1-4401-2509-6

Reviewed by Mike Gray

“Soft tyranny” is a term we often hear nowadays (frequently from Mark Levin) to denote that tendency in Western society to tolerate a pervasive political correctness that seeks to subsume all other considerations beneath itself, the final result being a net diminution of political, economic, and cultural freedom.

Soft tyranny comes in on little cat’s feet, ingratiatingly rubbing its muzzle against the panes of society—but, unlike Sandburg’s fog, it does not move on. Instead, the longer a culture allows soft tyranny a place, the more entrenched it becomes and the more likely it is to literally take over. Ultimately, all freedoms are lost.

In Gary Wolf’s world of 2020, soft tyranny has begun to metastasize; billions have yielded to its seductive urgings of racial and gender equality, of social justice and wealth redistribution. Tolerance has been worn down to acceptance. The velvet-gloved helping hand that soft tyranny has extended to the earth’s peoples, however, conceals an iron fist, as the protagonist of Wolf’s novel gradually discovers.

Jayesh Blackstone is an ordinary guy, an Everyman, with an extraordinary talent: He can kick a football, and he can do it well. The product of an American father and an Eastern Indian mother, Jayesh spent his early years in England. One day, however, he discovered he had a knack for American-style football, and it wasn’t long before he was exploiting that talent as a kicker for the New Mexico Coyotes NFL team.

Things are going along just fine for him and the team until one day soft tyranny imposes itself on his chosen profession in the person of umbrageous and sinister Joseph H. Azala, the man from UNSAINE, whose loopy plan is to score one for soft tyrannists everywhere by forcing the Coyotes to integrate a woman into the team, even if only briefly. The long-term aims of UNSAINE include abolishing all-male sports everywhere because they are perceived as perpetuating the white Christian fundamentalist patriarchal system that has oppressed women for centuries.

But Azala’s symbolic plan of having Miss America 2016 hold a football for Jayesh during the Super Bowl and letting UNSAINE use it as a propaganda ploy is sabotaged by a knowledegable sports reporter, and things take a more serious turn as the reporter is arrested for “racism” and imprisoned in Paris. While all of this is happening, Jayesh must come to terms with Ashley, his newly-found girlfriend who, as Jayesh notes in this first-person narrative, is possessed by the “demon of ideology.”

However, this is just the beginning for Jayesh. As he travels to Sundar Prabhat, a breakaway district of India, he discovers familial connections he never knew he had, as well as emotional stirrings when he encounters an enchanting young woman who could easily steal his heart away from Ashley. On top of that, he nearly dies in an assassination attempt.

The latent violence inherent in soft tyranny soon surfaces in full force. The velvet glove comes off, and Jayesh finds himself right in the middle of the conflict. He must ultimately decide where his loyalties lie, with his ancestors’ old ways of thought or Western ideals of freedom.

One thing is for sure: The comfortable, uncomplicated world Jayesh thought he knew is gone forever, and with it any notions that tyranny can somehow remain soft.

Mike Gray