12.28.2012

King's Highway pt. 61: With Stewart O'Nan

The Boston Americans (1901) - Where it all began. (Not counting those guys who moved to Atlanta.)
A shorter post this time around, probably 40% coverage of SK’s two collaborations with author Stewart O’Nan and 60% Yankees-bashing/ Sox pics/ personal memories. You’ve been warned.

First up, the 2012 Kindle Single:

I haven’t read any other Stewart O’Nan, shown here wearing what I assume is a Pawtucket Red Sox hat and not some Pirates variant lid, but it’s clear from his sections of Faithful and from the little bits I’ve read online that he’s got a clear command of the English language and how to wrest meaning from detail. And a fine eye for what details to include.
So, I look forward to doing so, is what I'm saying.
Unlike Faithful, his and King’s voices are blended together here so there’s no way to tell who contributed what sentence. But rather than feeling like two different voices overlapped on one another (as I find the Straub/King mind-meld) here it “sounds” more like two voices in harmony, singing the same phrases.

The plot for “Face in the Crowd” definitely comes from King, who mentions getting the idea for it in one of his sections/ emails from Faithful. It’s from the same side of his writing-brains that gave us “That Feeling, You Can Only Say in French” or “Wilma” or “Herman Wouk is Still Alive.” King’s been thinking about death in a different way in the twenty-first centry. He’s served up plenty of story-death over his career (as, I’d assume, has Stewart O’Nan) but as he ages, he’s forging a new relationship with its representation in his work. Can you blame him? (Can you blame anyone?) 

Luckily for us, we’ve got a guy (two of them, in "Crowd"'s case) in the “hot seat” that can take basic fears and questions on mortality and offer them up as story-fare that are as entertaining as they are heroic attempts to confront the basic, baffling problem of oblivion.
Dale Evers, our protagonist, is a retired widower living in Florida and watching a lot of baseball. As the story unfolds, he sees people long-dead in the stands of the Rays games on his tv screen, and with each new apparition, we-the-reader discover less-than-savory details of his life, including blackmail, infidelity, and parental-detachment. These are Dale’s “This Was Your Life” moments, and at the end (spoiler alert, obviously) he takes his place in the stands and we are left with the implication that his surviving friend (with whom he’s spoken on the phone throughout the story, and with whom he shares the unpleasant memory of bullying a weaker classmate in their teens) will now see him (and his own apparitions) on his own tv.

Great stuff. What more can I say? Should you want more, as per usual Kevin Quigley has a review worth linking to, as does The Truth Inside the Lie, which has 100% more fantastic-walrus-pics. (The author of the latter even leaves a comment at the former’s – cosmic convergence!)

At the risk of sounding like a total wanker, this is less a “Kindle Single” and more like a “Kindle Triple.” Either way, runs score.

As for Faithful, their collaborative effort chronicling the 2004 season of the Boston Red Sox...

The brawl which provides the cover photo for the novel.
I could really go overboard in this post and get to 50,000 words before I knew it on Red Sox fandom and my own interaction with it/ personal memories. Even more if I expanded the discussion to fandom in general. I’ll spare you all that, though, or at least most of it, and play it closer to the vest.

I can’t really imagine what this book must seem like to non-Red-Sox fans, non-baseball fans, or non-sports fans. Impenetrable, I imagine. But as a diehard Sox fan and as someone with a million associative-memories of their historic 2004 season (2004 being an important transitional life in my life), it’s basically like being a fly on the wall/ friend-at-the-table to two amazingly-perceptive Red Sox historians (and baseball analysts) as they take in the most important year in my baseball fandom. If this was jury duty, I’d be dismissed pretty fast. 


So, I won’t even try to review it. Nor will I try and convey how large the 2004 season looms in memory, myth and imagination for Red Sox fans. It seems a million years (and trades and blown-chances, not to mention one more World Series win in 2007) ago. My and every-Sox-fan-I-know’s long suffering pre-2004 Red Sox fandom seems a distant memory. (We’re much more preoccupied with the suffering of the last two seasons, thanks)
My own journey began only in 1987, the year after Bill Bucker's notorious fielding error in the World Series. (I haven't read all of 11/22/63 yet, but if no one mentions going back to that game to change the course of history, I'll be disappointed.) Burks was my favorite player on a team crowded with Red Sox legends. How cool is it that he ended his career on the 2004 Red Sox championship team? For me, supremely, supremely cool.

But even before 1987, there never was a time in my life when my Dad wasn’t watching the Sox, except our years in Germany, where baseball was hard to come by and technology too primitive to keep up in any way except via sporadic box scores in the Stars and Stripes. Still, like many a New Englander, the Sox (and the Patriots, and the Bruins, and the Celtics) were always in the background, somewhere.
Let me illustrate the problem. In the first hundred pages, Hanley Ramirez is mentioned as an “exciting prospect, but already with the attitude of a superstar;” O’Nan expresses early doubts that “Kevin Youklis” will have a big-league career; he and SK discuss the implications of Pokey Reese bunting in a Grapefruit League game; and King offers a comprehensive run-down of advertising for road games. Any one of these things would and does spiral into a several-hours discussion at the McMillan family household or with friends over email or over pitchers. If I wrote down everything that struck my fancy from that point on in the text, particularly as it edges closer to the greatest comeback in baseball history and then the Fall Classic itself, this blog would eclipse the page count for Under the Dome before I even got to mid-summer-2004.
Hell, I could give you War and Peace for this caption alone.
That said, I am so happy this season-long conversation between King and O’Nan exists in book form, both as a testament to that remarkable year in Sox history and as a living document of Sox / baseball fandom. Along the lines of this top 10 moments of Sox history, my own personal list would include a special entry for the existence of this book.
Also on my personal top 10 list would be the team I took to championship-after-championship glory on the ol' PS2 back in 2004. As I said, it was a transitional year in my life and without getting too into it, I had a lot of time on my hands. And when you have the time to sink into it, MLB on the PS2 is like an all-rails-pass to the Negative Zone.
My star pitcher (not featured here, that's just a random screen-grab from the game) was my personal creation, Blubbs Canasta. Six-foot-six inches and two-hundred-and-forty-pounds of Cuban Commie fury! I knew it was time to stop playing when, having advanced my team well into the future-of-the-game (as it allowed you to play and keep track track of an almost-infinite amount of seasons), I started seeing "Blubbs" and "Canasta" randomly generated as names by the computer when it had to invent players, its database-rosters long exhausted.
Different sports breed different kinds of fans, but each hierarchy-of-fandom shares certain characteristics. I’d say King and O’Nan take the elevator to a few floors above my own. They are, as aforementioned, the kind of fans for whom pitch-counts and bunting-decisions and avoidance-of-the-sacrifice-fly are entrails to be read and interpreted as in ancient Rome. One meets them in bars and bleachers up and down the coast of New England (though seldom of their intellectual caliber) and into its interior. 
With the exception of CT. Which is to New England what Quisling is to Norwegian history.
My brother gets off on that floor. My brother-in-law gets off on one possibly even above it, the kind where listening to several hundred of Red Sox Radio (not just the games but all the analysis/ jackasses-who-call-in-constantly, something I touched upon way back when) is a prerequisite.

I’m not quite at that level. I exit the elevator on the floor my father and sister seem to – obsessive fans whose season-long nervousness is only eclipsed by off-season-anxiety and an all-pervasive hatred of the Yankees. (My sister’s anguish at losing to the Yankees is easily the most Firestarter-esque on Planet Earth, though. Trust me – avoid her on rivalry-weekends!)

I love the mechanics of baseball. I love the history of baseball. But I’d be lying if I didn’t see those as side benefits to an altogether different addiction. I love those things the way I love Napoleanic War stories; I love hating the Yankees the way Burroughs loved heroin. Thankfully, mine’s less hazardous to my health.
Though sometimes it’s injurious to my compassion/ professional demeanor. When I first heard the news that Cory Liddle (Yankees pitcher) died in a plane crash, I was at work. My first reaction – out of my mouth before I knew it happened – was Good. Awful, I know. (And for the record, not sincere – just an example of the depth of my addiction; my devotion to the Crimson King (or at least his Sox) exceeds my rationality and concern-for-others'-well-being to a humiliating degree.)
Evil douches in Yankees hats, take one.
Close f**king enough.
SK (pictured here with son/Sox-fan/author-extraordinaire Joe Hill) gets it, as this anecdote attests. When his former publicist asked him for a blurb for the cover of her "Yay, Yankees fan!" book, King - normally about as cheerfully-available as available gets to anyone who helped him out along the way in his career/ life - told her "No thanks." If I loved Stephen King before - and I did - I am now ready to hurl myself into Mt. Doom for him.
But, underneath all that, I love the Red Sox more than I hate the Yankees, so, you know, fingers crossed for my eternal soul.

So is Faithful an official roadside plaza off the King’s Highway, a side-road, its own forest preserve at the end of a connector road to it, or what? Should it be evaluated alongside Danse Macabre and On Writing
Or maybe something like Uli Hesse-Lichtenberger's Tor, easily one of the best sports-books ever written?
Or Phil Ball's Morbo?
I think football-fandom (that’s soccer fandom for the sensitive) is a natural comparison to Red Sox fandom. Actually, if the two are being compared, football/soccer-fandom wins hands-down. Civil wars are paused for national teams to participate in the World Cup; goalies are gunned down for failing to save key goals. I’m not saying these are good things (at least that last one) but the sheer size of football-madness dwarfs even the titanic struggle of good vs. evil that is replayed each year in Fenway and Yankees Stadium. But beyond the above admittedly-excellent books, I’d say Faithful’s proper shelf-mate is Nick Hornby’s tortured (and amazing) memoir of Arsenal fandom, Fever Pitch.

When it came time to turn his book into a movie for US audiences, is it any surprise the team the powers-that-be picked to swap-in for Arsenal was the Red Sox?
Final Verdict: For King fans, “Face in the Crowd” is essential reading; Faithful, less so. 



Whereas for Red Sox fans, Faithful is arguably the greatest discussion about the (inarguably) greatest team in its greatest year, ever. (And “Face in the Crowd” is pretty good, too.)

NEXT: Whatever gets finished first.