The Sidekick by Benjamin Markovits - review by Joseph Owen

Joseph Owen

Hoop Dreams

The Sidekick


Faber and Faber 361pp £18.99

The Sidekick is a tale of imbalance, real and perceived. The narrator, Brian Blum, is a semi-successful national sportswriter living in the shadow of his best friend from high school, Marcus Hayes, an NBA superstar in the mould of Michael Jordan and LeBron James. The reader follows the pair from their adolescence into their mid-thirties, when Marcus makes a late career comeback and invites Brian to write his biography. Brian is ‘subservient’ within their relationship, a supporting player in Marcus’s vault towards triumph, wealth and celebrity. The contrast is struck from the start: Brian is ‘a big slow fat kid’ who reports on and records Marcus’s growing athletic prowess and pitiless dedication. While Brian’s perspective is tainted by envy, Marcus’s outlook is harder to parse. As a youth, Marcus moves in with Brian’s parents, who give all their attention to the talented youngster and leave their son feeling sidelined. Brian rarely empathises with Marcus, and his narrow and indulgent narrative voice is a great strength of the book. The structural obstacles facing Marcus – his class, race and culture – are ever-present but are left deliberately under-examined, Benjamin Markovits instead focusing on the dynamic between the main characters as a way of revealing his narrator’s inhibited world-view. In Brian, Markovits fashions an interior consciousness defined by self-deception, a character inhabiting a slowly shrinking world of inferiority and sadness.

Brian wants to spend his life writing about ‘natural selection, the way people get measured’; Marcus, meanwhile, is what Brian would see as an evolutionary winner, harnessing an aura and skillset that bend others to his will. Brian laments this difference, noting that in life, ‘what matters isn’t being

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