Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Grisham about more than baseball
AMERICAN legal thriller star John Grisham writes with a distinct voice, regardless of subject, be in law or sports.
Whether sharing the secrets of wills and estates law in The Testament, or exposing the harsh realities of poverty law in The Street Lawyer, Grisham tells a riveting story that gets to the heart of a matter.
Case in point, his new baseball novel, Calico Joe, unfolds in the same direct voice and is about far more than just baseball. Main character Paul Tracey tells how, in the summer of 1973 his father, fictional Mets pitcher Warren Tracey, "beaned" a star rookie hitter, Joe Castle, destroying Castle's promising career. Paul, who was 11 and pitching in his local little league, worshipped the young hero from Calico Rock, Ark.
After the incident, the boy grows up with a terrible secret in his heart regarding his father's role in the injury. Upon learning that his father is dying of pancreatic cancer, Paul proposes a means of reconciliation that could prove either disastrous or miraculously healing for all involved.
From the start, Grisham sets the pace: Calico Joe is by no means a comedy like Grisham's 2007 football novel, Playing for Pizza. Calico Joe's narrator, Paul, immediately and rather ham-fistedly drives home the point that Warren is a completely unlikable man, a petulant and self-centred wife- and child-beating alcoholic narcissist who deserves no sympathy from anyone.
Likewise, this fact and stats-filled tale does not hold the magical quality that W.P. Kinsella's recent novel, Butterfly Winter, carries for the game.
Grisham's story is more about the broken relationship between a father and son, which, were it not for the father's pride and vanity, could have been incredible.
What 11-year-old boy wouldn't die to be able to say his dad played pro ball? Paul had a dream-come-true life that in reality was more of a nightmare.
"For me, baseball was a joy to play when my father wasn't watching," he says. Most heartbreaking is: "From the age of seven, I cried after every game my father saw me play."
Joe's tragedy is the catalyst that finally frees Warren's long-suffering wife and children from their father's tyranny. But it comes at a great cost. Paul expresses relief at having raised only daughters, which in his opinion has spared him from having to coach little league. (It is an annoying oversight of Grisham's to assume that girls don't play ball.)
In Calico Joe, three lives were changed and three baseball careers were abruptly ended when Warren Tracey let his jealousy rule.
Grisham's approach to the difficult subject of righting past wrongs and reconciling broken relationships is as painful as a needle in the arm, but in the end, good medicine to heal old wounds.
Christine Mazur is a Winnipeg writer and former lawyer whose father taught her to catch and hit at age seven.
By John Grisham
Doubleday, 198 pages, $29
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 5, 2012 J8
(1 of 23 articles for this week)