The Bottom Line: A cinematic page-turner about family, spite and sacrifice that manages to be both tragic and uplifting. Highly recommended.
In 1994, projected first-round NFL draft pick Roland Moses was arrested for killing a man in Harlem. He went to prison. In 2015, he returned for his one and only year in the NFL, where as a 46-year-old running back for the New York Giants, he broke all major single-season NFL rushing records. A Selfless Man is the story of what happens between these two extraordinary events.
As he did in his excellent under-the-radar debut Rerun, author Shawn Raymond Poalillo shows tremendous range for narratives, but proves himself once again to be a master of characterization. We follow two plot lines, the first of which is Moses’ plight as he endures a prison sentence and struggles to move on afterwards. The second, which is nearly as compelling, features a struggling young girl, Lesinda, whom Moses impregnated unknowingly. Though both characters are deliberately flawed, Poalillo manages to create a pair of entirely sympathetic characters at odds with each other. The open question as to whether Moses and Lesinda is enough to make A Selfless Man a page-turner, although for anyone in or past middle age, the idea of a 46-year-old NFL running back is compelling enough.
Throughout, Poalillo immerses his characters in a world where most everyone survives against all odds. His quest for complete authenticity mostly succeeds, although there are times when his attempts to capture local English language dialects are make dialogue nearly indecipherable (“Him also youstless as da one I put out”). In the tradition of Stephen King’s Shawshank Redemption, there are plenty of hard-fought victories to be had, and I challenge anyone to get through A Selfless Man without shedding tears.