"Playing with Fire" by Theo Fleury

I finally got around to reading one of the most notable hockey books to come out in a few years, Playing with Fire, by Theo Fleury. Growing up, Fleury was one of my favourite players. Of course he was. Everybody loved the way he played the game; scrappy, quick, and tough. He was one of the best players in the league, and for a few seasons, pretty much the only bright spot on the Calgary Flames. But after being traded from the Flames to the Avalanche, his star sure fell, and fast. And that’s what Playing with Fire is about; Fleury’s fall from grace and why it was basically inevitable.

Most already know the story, so in terms of any major new developments, there aren’t any. But the book does offer an excellent behind the scenes look at what was happening to Fleury during his rise to fame in junior hockey, his ascent to the NHL, and his eventual downfall. While most may know the story, they may be surprised at the extent of his problems.

Without a doubt the most notable chapters would be those concerning the abuse he suffered at the hands of his junior coach, Graham James. While the fact that Fleury was abused is already known, the book explores how it began, how it happened, and how he dealt (or failed to) with it. Obviously it was a life altering experience, with a profound effect on who he was and who he would become. At times these chapters are a little difficult to read, purely because of the subject matter, but I must hand it to Fleury for having the courage to come out and talk about something of this nature, so openly. Few are able to do the same.

Besides his abuse, Fleury also explores the effects of his drinking, his drug use, and his gambling. It really is amazing to think he was able to succeed on the ice, despite so many distractions and problems off it. But as a fan, it was also difficult to accept that someone who I thought so much of, could turn out to be, so human, flaws and all. Never was he the demi-god so many thought him to be, instead he was only a regular Joe, with common problems, who happened to be a really good skater.

At times, I found the book to be a bit of a struggle to read because of the style in which it was written. And perhaps written is a bit of a misnomer; it seems as if this book was simply dictated. Instead of being written with any real prose, it reads as if it is merely a transcript of an interview Fleury was giving. I suppose this was done to give the book a feeling of intimacy and honesty, but at times I found it a little mind-numbing. While people may talk like that, when I’m reading, I wouldn’t mind something with a little more structure and a little better use of the language.

Then again, if it was great literature I was looking for; I wouldn’t have chosen this book. Instead, I was looking for a little inside info on Fleury and the NHL, and that’s exactly what I received. I guess kudos are in order.

Comment 1
George Prax's picture

Good review. Been meaning to check this out but I didn't know how the writing would stand up. Definitely an uncomfortable story with everything that went on.