Woodson’s debut novel features twin brothers in mid-19th-century Missouri who abruptly get separated only to be reunited years later.
In 1860 St. Louis, siblings Tom and Stefan Spiess come upon their first game of “base-ball” (as it was then spelled). Tom is soon hooked, and when the ball gets lost in the bushes, he finds and keeps it. Four years later, their family of free, mixed-race Creoles becomes fearful of roving Home Guards and other threats, so they make their way to the Hill Country of Texas. One day, when the boys are 11, Comanches raid their homestead, abduct Tom, and brutalize and kill their mother. A short while later, Stefan, in hiding, sees his stepfather murdered by a young man named Jason Strachey. Tom (who still had his baseball) was captured by a man named Blue Turtle, who will eventually adopt him as his son. Over the next decade, Tom will take two different wives and become a respected warrior and father. Meanwhile, Stefan is kidnapped and enslaved while trying to get back to San Antonio. After he’s eventually freed, he survives as a jack-of-all-trades with his prostitute friend, Jeanie Lalande; they live on the seamier side of life, doing what they need to do to survive. Stefan later gets back to Indian country and finds his brother, now named Far Stones for his deadly throwing accuracy. Throughout this novel, Woodson writes well, with a keen ear for the right turn of phrase (“…as if the night had been an unsteady horse that still threatened to lurch him off”). But the most intriguing aspect of the novel is its subtle baseball motif, which becomes a running theme throughout the text; Far Stones, for example, is known for keeping balls whenever he find them—including two hairballs, one from his future wife, one from a buffalo; similarly, Stefan pilfers a perfectly round furniture finial which becomes his own talisman. Even the story’s final reconciliation—a slow and painfully sensitive dance—is finally effected thanks to baseball.
An impressive debut featuring vivid prose and an unexpected but surprisingly effective sports motif.