The Story of Tom Brennan

by

J. C. Burke

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The Story of Tom Brennan: Chapter Fourteen Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
For the weeks that Mum and Dad are with Daniel, Tom throws himself into running with Brendan. Tom either zones out or they talk about Daniel. One morning, when they get back to Brendan's cabin, Brendan starts his sit-ups and Tom insists that the worst thing is that nobody will talk about Daniel. He says it feels like Daniel never existed. Tom joins Brendan in doing sit-ups. Brendan says he believes Mum and Dad are having a really hard time and points out that not long ago, Tom wouldn't talk at all.
Tom is definitely making progress here when he wants desperately to talk about Daniel, especially to Mum and Dad. This suggests that Tom is starting to trust again that his parents will be around to act as parents, not just other people who share space with him.
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Jonny fills in for Dad as assistant coach. The team is somewhat annoyed, as Jonny likes to drill ball handling and technique. One afternoon Harvey doesn't come to practice, and Jonny asks Tom to take half the team. Grudgingly, Tom agrees. His half includes Rory, Marcus, and the captain, Tonelli, and they hang on Tom's every word as he starts to explain a defensive strategy to them.
The fact that the team is clearly interested in learning from Tom suggests that Tom is still behaving snobbishly about rugby: the team clearly wants to improve and Tom has the power to help them, but he's too caught up in thinking of them as useless to do so.
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Brendan picks Tom up after practice and Tom jokes that his teammates are hopeless. Brendan suggests they go out for steak and mentions that Gran gave him clothes for Tom—Jonny is coming too, and the plan is that Tom will shower at Jonny's. Tom asks if Chrissy will be there. He tries to act nonchalant, but he starts to panic when he learns that Chrissy will be at the house and join them for dinner.
When Tom panics but doesn't run away, it's another sign that he's making progress. Dinner will help him connect more deeply with Jonny and Brendan, while having Chrissy around will allow him to get to know her without having to ask her out himself.
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At Jonny's house, Jonny explains exactly how to turn the water on in the shower without getting burnt. Tom barely listens; he's concerned that the door doesn't lock. Tom finally steps into the shower and the hot water promptly scalds him. He can't even reach to turn it off and begins cursing and jumping around. Tom screams when the water hits him again and ends up trapped between the toilet and the sink, the water spraying all over the bathroom. Brendan and Jonny race in, Chrissy right behind them.
Though this is a humorous example, Tom's fixation on his fears and anxieties once again keeps him from engaging logically with others and in this case, it literally burns him. This shows that while Tom is starting to improve, he'll need to work on this as he moves towards maturity and discovering who he is as an individual.
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Jonny manages to turn the water off and hands Tom a towel, and then he and Brendan start laughing. Chrissy tries not to laugh and compliments Tom on his nice butt. Later, Tom thinks that it was a nice icebreaker given how much fun he has at dinner. He makes Chrissy laugh with all his jokes, which is a first since Daniel usually hogged the limelight and was an awful joke-teller. Chrissy suggests that they go out for dinner every night and blushes when Brendan and Jonny tease her about Davin.
In this case, water provides Tom a way forward with Chrissy and helps him see that he will possibly be able to construct his future in Coghill. Though the novel never confirms or denies it, it's possible that Brendan and Jonny arranged this dinner specifically to get Tom and Chrissy together, which would add more evidence to the novel's assertion that Tom can now look to new family members for support.
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Tom explains that the family's plan for footy camp involves complicated travel plans that will allow Dad to coach the camp and not leave Mum alone. Tom feels as though half his life is spent in the car these days.
Making these plans for footy camp that take the entire family into account shows that the Brennans are trying their best to rally for each other and provide the support that they lost in Mumbilli.
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On the bus ride to camp, the guys start a betting pool on which of them will top Davin's number of sexual encounters with the nurses from last year. This makes Tom feel like an outsider, as he doesn't know enough to make an informed bet. On the plus side, Tom learns that Chrissy dumped Davin over the weekend. Dad and Harvey meet the bus at camp and Harvey assigns rooms. Tom realizes he hates the teambuilding part of rugby in particular. He's assigned a room with Tonelli, Marcus, and Jimmy.
Tom's insistence that he hates the teambuilding parts of playing rugby speaks again to the environment at St. John's: they were obsessed with winning and from what Tom has said thus far, it doesn't seem like the team was all that connected personally. This sets Tom up to learn at footy camp that teambuilding isn't actually a bad thing.
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In their room, Marcus notes that they'll play St. John's in July and quickly says that they'll only play them once. The guys ask Tom how St. John's plays and they tell Tom that Dad is a great coach. Tonelli excuses himself to smoke, knowing that Harvey will confiscate everything illegal after dinner. Harvey also confiscates the book of bets. The daily routine includes running, training, and gym time in the morning, with teambuilding activities in the afternoons and watching old game footage after dinner. Most of the videos are of Bennie's losing.
The questions about how St. John's plays shows that the Bennie's team understands that Tom is an asset to them for a number of reasons—besides being an excellent player, he also has insider knowledge into St. John's. This does suggest that camp isn't going to be easy for Tom, as he has to live with the knowledge that he's an outsider and is still emotionally part of a different team.
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Tom becomes more and more disenchanted as the week goes on. In Mumbilli, Dad used to get a professional coach out at the beginning of the season to work the team into the ground so they could win. Tom doesn't see the point of the "fluffy" teambuilding activities. Finally, on Wednesday afternoon, Dad pulls Tom aside. Tom complains that his teammates play horribly, but Dad puts his head against the rail and asks if he pushed Tom too hard and caved to the pressure to win the Wattle Shield at all costs.
Again, describing the teambuilding activities as "fluffy" indicates that Tom is only playing rugby to win. Because Bennie's has no hope of doing that, Tom has simply decided that playing at all isn't worth it. Dad's suggests here that he blames himself for the accident, as the pressure to win the Wattle Shield was a major contributing factor in the fight on the night of the accident.
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Tom is confused, but Dad continues. Dad admits that he got someone else to lead camps at Mumbilli because he didn't fully believe that winning was all there was to rugby. He says the only thing he's sure of is that Tom has more natural ability than Daniel ever had, and Daniel and Tom's endless drilling made them unstoppable. He says that Daniel's attention gave Tom a fair chance at doing well and tells Tom that he needs to take this chance to play for Bennie's, even if the team seems pathetic. Dad tells Tom to try, because he knows Tom can do better.
Dad suggests here that teamwork and camaraderie are extremely important to being able to play well, and Tom is holding himself back by not embracing his team. The fact that Dad can also give Daniel credit for giving Tom this chance shows that Dad is able to recognize Daniel's positive roles throughout his life, not just fixate on the accident.
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Tom feels awful. He knows that Dad has always been willing to tell him hard truths, so he accepts Dad's challenge and throws himself into training. He's able to teach the team a few things and gets into the teambuilding activities. Tom comes to truly believe that the Bennie's guys are fun and friendly. He thinks he's just not used to that as at St. John's, winning was everything—this outlook is confusingly different. Tom thinks about Dad's words at night, trying to figure out if he's right that winning isn't everything.
The fact that Tom is struggling to come around to Dad's way of thinking is indicative of just how flawed the St. John's team's ethos was, as well as how much of an impact that had on the players. This makes it clear that changing one's thinking on this sort of thing is actually extremely difficult, even if the "right" answer seems pretty clear.
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