The Peerless Four
In 1928 women competed in the Olympics for the first time, and Canada sent a track team to Amsterdam. In this fictionalized version, the four young women and their coach are accompanied by a chaperone, Marybelle Eloise (Lee) Ross, better known as Mel, who narrates. Though the team is made up of women favored to win their events, The Peerless Four is an underdog story from beginning to end. In the 1920s, women who competed in sports were regarded as near-freaks, and the press treats the Peerless Four with a combination of adulation and bemusement. The future of female participation in the Olympics rests on these athletes’ performances, and also on how they bear up under the world’s scrutiny.
As a former runner, Mel sympathizes with the athletes’ struggles both on and off the field, for she too has battled with society’s disdain and also her husband’s disapproval of her athleticism. For me, Patterson’s novelshines when Mel is focused on her charges, both on and off the track. However, The Peerless Four is not so much a sports story, but a story about women who participate in sports, and the men around them.
The Peerless Fouropens with a chapter narrated by each character in first person before Mel takes over, and I didn’t settle into the story line easily. Mel’s personal life was confusing at times as she tries to sort out her husband’s disapproval of her athletic participation and her mutual attraction to the team’s coach. The Peerless Four also struggle with memories of glory and failure as their particular Olympic moments fade. They each tried their best, and that was their victory.