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Gary Smith
May 08, 1995
The inner conflicts that drive St. Louis Blues coach Mike Keenan to succeed also make him the most reviled man in hockey.
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May 08, 1995

Torn Asunder

The inner conflicts that drive St. Louis Blues coach Mike Keenan to succeed also make him the most reviled man in hockey.

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His Home was a three-bedroom unit on the 16th floor, filled with the furniture of forgetting. All whites and blacks and glass and metal; each morning, in such a place, was surely the dawn of a clean, fresh start.

The one old thing was his leather briefcase, worn and cracked as an old fisherman's face. "It's the only thing in my life," he remarked, "that I haven't thrown out."

But, it turned out, that wasn't quite true. Late one night, as he tried to explain himself over Amarettos, he fell silent and knelt in front of a small bookcase in his living room. Finally he stood.

"No one who has ever written about me," Mike Keenan said, "has a——clue who I am." Then he handed The Great Gatsby to me, as if that were proof.

The paperback book was a quarter-century old, yellowing and marked in a variety of inks: sentences he had underlined, words and exclamation points he had scribbled in the margins at different junctures since he was a teen. His eyes glittered as he watched me leaf through it. "It's much more complicated," he pointed out, "than anyone really thinks."

He was not much of a reader, he admitted; too many winds whistled through him for him to sit and hear the quiet rustlings of a book. And so even he found it extraordinary that he had read The Great Gatsby five times and that every now and then he skimmed it again in order to...well, he couldn't quite say why; it was all feeling, not thought. The first underscored passage I opened to: Everyone suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.

The main character in F. Scott Fitzgerald's book is Jay Gatsby, a man who, out of nowhere—poof!—appears in an opulent estate on the shores of Long Island in the 1920s, throwing lavish parties for guests who whisper speculations about his past and the source of his fabulous wealth. No one realizes that the mansion, the boats, the cars and the weekend revelry are just props, details painstakingly wrought by a poor boy who has poured everything into a pure dream: the pursuit of a beautiful married woman with a low, thrilling voice.

But no, that's not exactly true. The main character in Fitzgerald's book is actually the United States, a land where such a man could invent himself. A land where an 18-year-old Canadian named Mike Keenan arrived one autumn day in 1968 and knew in the beat of a heart that he belonged.

Passport official: The purpose of your visit to Canada?

Traveler: Business.

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