Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Book Review: Calico Joe

"Baseball is sunshine, green grass, fathers and sons, our rural past."
--Albert Theodore Powers

For many, our national pastime is what brings together fathers and sons, if not entire families.  But what about when the opposite is true?  What about the instances where baseball is what drives a father and son apart?

For some, baseball builds up heroes and creates glamorous, extravagant lifestyles.  But what about when the opposite is true?  What about the instances where baseball tragically cripples and ruins a young life?

When such tragedies occur, what can one man do?

Those questions lie at the heart of John Grisham's touching 2012 book Calico Joe.

As a man nears the end of his life, his estranged son embarks on an unlikely quest.  After giving up any hope of reconciliation with his father decades ago, the son seeks a reunion of a different kind.  As his purpose becomes clear, the impossibility of his goal becomes clear as well.  And yet, in the face of thousands of miles and decades of hurt, he presses on, acknowledging the hopelessness of his endeavor.

Intertwined with his journey is the tale of Joe Castle, a rookie phenom for the Chicago Cubs.  When two injuries pave the way for Castle's major league debut, he seizes his opportunity and takes the baseball world by storm, breaking various records along the way.  Pundits note that no player can play so well for very long.  Though many expect Castle to cool down, nobody could anticipate the sharp turn his career takes.

Calico Joe is an easy, quick read.  Grisham does an excellent job tempering grown-up pain with the childhood joy of baseball fandom.  Both themes are handled with skill as Grisham guides the two narratives toward their inevitable meeting--and beyond to the book's resolution, which expertly pays off all the emotional and dramatic investment that leads up to it.

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