Two turn-of-the-century ballplayers, cut from their team, encounter a backwoods goddess in rural Georgia. Beautiful Lottie Barton will love one, but marry the other.
Foster Lanier is a washed-up boozer with a cancerous sore that hinders him on the field, and will eventually require amputation of his leg. Ben Phelps is an athletically gifted small-town boy who fears being hit by the ball. Cast adrift, the two men fall in together on the road home, where they meet Lottie and admire her golden eyes and generously sexual nature. When Foster rescues her from the sleazy salesman who's been trying to become her pimp (a useless endeavor, since Lottie prefers to give it away), the three work at a traveling carnival. After young Ben is viciously beaten by a mob one night, though, the friends part ways: Ben returns to the dry-goods emporium where he used to work, a store founded by the father of his true love and future wife, plucky little Sally . . . but only after he nobly refuses the charms of Lottie. Eventually, Foster marries Lottie and—after a stint in a freak show made up of severely injured or deformed athletes who play exhibition games of a sort—the dying man hands off Lottie and their small son to Ben. He takes her home to meet his lonely father-in-law; she becomes his lover. And so it goes. Kay (The Runaway, 1997, etc.) tends to rely on archetypes—the Whore With a Heart of Gold, the Pure Youth, the Girl He Left Behind, etc.—and he floats off into elegiac nonsense about baseball all too often. Nonetheless, he evokes these unsung lives with remarkable tenderness.
A poetic but muddled love story of sorts.