While it eventually turns melodramatic, this tale offers an appealingly honest portrayal of aspirant baseball players.

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EMPTY SEATS

Three minor league pitchers contend with fate in this debut novel.

Growing up outside Boston under the shadow of his father’s unrealized major league baseball dreams, Jimmy Bailey wishes to succeed where his dad could not. That’s why he’s willing to board with a strange family in Jamestown, New York, in the early 1970s. He isn’t the only pitcher there to play ball for a Single-A affiliate of the Montreal Expos. There’s also Bobby Mangino, a hotheaded New Yorker with some father issues of his own to work out, and Bud Prescott, an aw-shucks optimist from Athens, Georgia. The three young athletes must contend with their nerves, ambitions, and abilities to throw fastballs as they spend the summer competing to move forward toward their dreams of the big leagues. “We’re all in the same boat: all-stars in our high schools, Babe Ruth and Connie Mack ball,” narrates Jimmy. “People at home knew who we are. Here, we are essentially nothing but three passengers jammed into the back seat of a Dodge station wagon—until we can prove otherwise.” They must face the expected obstacles. But the unforeseen tragedies (bodily, legal, and otherwise) will remind them that once they leave the field, they still have to compete in the most important game of all: the rest of their lives. Fischer adeptly—and often lyrically—captures the mindset of her characters, both their love of their sport and the things that they’ve given up to pursue it: “There’s nothing better than the smell that fills every corner, every inch, of a ballpark on a sunny spring day....The aroma makes me feel high. I bet it’s like sniffing cocaine or drinking too much tequila. But I’ve never done that. I’ve only gotten high on baseball.” The author wrings genuine emotions from the tale, making sure that readers know what’s at stake for these young men. This is perhaps why some shocking third act developments feel histrionic and unnecessary. Even so, Fischer manages to clearly communicate her ultimate message: that baseball holds more humiliation than it does glory, and far more losers than winners.

While it eventually turns melodramatic, this tale offers an appealingly honest portrayal of aspirant baseball players.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9995049-0-1

Page Count: 260

Publisher: Spring Training Media

Review Posted Online: Dec. 20, 2017

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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