THE CELEBRANT by Eric Rolfe Greenberg

THE CELEBRANT

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The celebrant is narrator Jackie Kapinski, turn-of-the-century jewelry designer; the object of his celebration is real-life baseball star Christy Mathewson, the game's first hero (1880-1925); and the theme of this slight, slow, but engaging first novel is Idealistic Perfection vs. Crass, Mundane Reality. Jackie first sees handsome, college-man Mathewson pitch for the Giants in 1901--the famous no-hit game in St. Louis, where Jackie (a onetime aspiring pitcher) is on a business trip for the immigrant-family/jewelry firm. He tells his brother: ""He's marvelous, Eli, just marvelous, and I have to let him know that I know it."" So Jackie designs a special ring for Mathewson, a tribute which Mathewson seems to truly understand and appreciate. But, over the years, Jackie's two partner/brothers--coarse gambler Eli, young marketing hot-shot Arthur--insist on turning Jackie's tribute (and his distant-yet-intense relationship with Mathewson) into crass business opportunities: a World Series ring gimmick, an endorsement from Mathewson, Eli's use of baseball connections for his gambling exploits. By 1912, then, Jackie feels that he is ""exploiting rather than glorifying the hero."" And this souring-of-beautiful-perfection seems to be paralleled in Mathewson's career, in the history of baseball itself: Mathewson retires in 1916, manages in Cincinnati, but resigns after a scandal, is a grievously-wounded witness to the 1919 World Series fix (in which Eli has a stake), and confronts Jackie in a heavyhanded Message finale: ""I'd achieved the perfection you celebrated in stone. Then followed doubt, confusion, failure, and finally betrayal. . . ."" Throughout, in fact, first-novelist Greenberg overstates his theme--with Mathewson too much the Perfect Hero, Jackie too gushy a fan. And only baseball-history buffs will appreciate the reconstructed play-by-play here, the dugout details that stretch a novella-shaped story out to novel length. But the counterpoint of baseball and jewelry-making is intriguing, the tone is genuinely innocent and enthusiastic--and fans of the baseball novel (along with a few others) will find this a somewhat preachy yet fresh-angled approach to essentially familiar material.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1982
ISBN: 0803270372
Publisher: Everest