Dancer Stonemason, a minor league pitcher, falls into a downward spiral in Joy’s debut novel.
This darkly nostalgic story is a study of an American family through good times and bad, engagingly set against major events from the 1950s to the ’70s, as issues of race simmer in the background. After pitching a perfect game, Dancer dreams of playing in the major leagues, but he never gets his chance due to a perpetually sore arm and the financial needs of his expanding family. He moves from his off-season job as a parts inspector at a Caterpillar plant to the company’s better-paying foundry, run by the Thackers, a father and son who are also members of the Ku Klux Klan. Joy vividly describes the workplace as a Dantean hell: “Once the furnace was fired up and the men started building molds, the air would be filled with carbon ash and fine black molding sand. The junk hung in the air and made everything look blurry, like a bad dream.” Stripped of his own dream, Dancer starts drinking and getting into fights; eventually, he gets arrested and becomes increasingly alienated from his wife and sons. Dancer’s older son Clayton, who once idolized him, grows to hate him, despite the fact that he’s just like Dancer in many ways. Meanwhile, Dede, Dancer’s wife, goes to work and has affairs but still helps her husband whenever he’s in trouble. Eventually, Dancer is taken in by a black milkman who’s a recovering alcoholic, a situation that eventually leads to a violent denouement and Dancer’s ultimate redemption. Overall, this novel is a natural for history buffs, filled with period details such as sting-ray bikes, Green Stamps, and the names of famous baseball players, including Spahn, Larsen, Mantle and Musial. However, it’s also an expertly written examination of the importance of dreams to the human psyche.
A well-crafted novel that will particularly appeal to sports and history aficionados.