A young boy becomes caught between two parental prophecies involving the priesthood and major league baseball in this novel.
After the Brooklyn Dodgers defect to Los Angeles, Harry Sisler, an obsessive fan, feels compelled to vacate New York City as well, and he moves his family to Ronkonkoma, a sleepy hamlet in the “hinterlands” of Long Island. Harry seems lost more than ever and becomes convinced, based on his bizarrely creative and aggressively heretical readings of the Bible, that he will die by the age of 50. At the time of this morbid prophecy, he’s 37, leaving him 13 years to accomplish something worthwhile, relieving him from a life of quiet disappointment. But Harry doesn’t plan on dying without purpose—when his second son, Tristram, is born, he announces another prophecy: It is his boy’s destiny to become a professional baseball player, one who is twice as good as Joe DiMaggio. With maniacal and relentless intent—and often against both Tristram’s wishes and any sign of precocious athletic talent—Harry attempts to rob the boy’s life of any distraction that could compete with his focus on the sport. Meanwhile, Harry’s wife, Agatha, has her own grand designs for Tristram—she decides, shortly after he is born, that his purpose in life is to become a Roman Catholic priest based on a hilariously self-assured interpretation of an ambiguous “mark” on the boy. Schneider (Pig in Flight, 2019), in this endearingly humorous tale of frustrated aspirations, chronicles Tristram’s unenviable role as a kind of filial wishbone, caught between the competing but equally intractable futures assigned to him by his parents. The author’s prose is crisply game, and he manages to combine a farcically fantastical tale with a sober portrayal of an authentic emotional drama. Harry is not merely a psychotically clownish alcoholic, but also a common man who struggles profoundly with his ordinariness and his failure to capitalize on talent and opportunity when they present themselves. And Tristram’s heartbreaking plight—wanting to be free of his father’s despotic control while yearning to become closer to him—is effectively depicted.
A comically inventive but tenderly poignant family tale, both funny and moving.