Short stories are on my radar – with Alice Munro winning the Nobel for her short stories and Sarah Hall’s story winning the BBC short story award for her tale of a woman turning into a fox ( a story I have yet to find anywhere in print but the BBC reading was enticing). Tom Perrotta’s Nine Inches on my Kindle was a funny, irreverent collection that had me laughing, crying, musing, and reflecting on my own experiences. With the same quirky perspective he gave to people in crisis in The Leftovers, Perrotta changes ordinary events into devastating moments.
Each of the ten short stories focuses on a dreary middle-class suburbanite facing inner turmoil for an irretrievable life mistake, and emerging changed through events that could happen anywhere to anyone. The only problem – each story has a depressing, nevertheless realistic, ending. After reading the first six, I stopped.
The title refers to middle school teachers using a piece of nine-inch tape to measure and enforce safe space between students who are slow dancing, with the focus on one teacher who reminisces on his lost chances. “Senior Season” targets a football player who suffers a head injury that keeps him from playing; “Grade My Teacher” focuses on a teacher obsessed with her online evaluations and ranking; “Kiddie Pool” has a man discovering his wife’s infidelity when he sneaks into his dead neighbor’s garage to use his pump to inflate a pool for his grandchildren; “The Smile on Happy Chang’s Face” – the most enjoyable of the lot – targets the rivalry between coaches of a Little League game with a talented young girl as the pitcher.
Good stories…well written…maybe I’ll go back to read the rest later.
“Poets are like baseball pitchers. Both have their moments. The intervals are the tough things.” ~Robert Frost
John Grisham’s “Calico Joe” offers a look inside those intervals through the lives of Joe Castle, a young phenom hitter for the Chicago Cubs and Warren Tracey, an arrogant thirty-four year old pitcher for the Mets.
Paul Tracey, the son of the Mets pitcher and a talented eleven year old Little Leaguer when the story begins, has that love of baseball that makes the players into gods. Calico Joe becomes Paul’s hero, but Paul knows his volatile, abusive father too well to award him the same status. The confrontation between the two baseball players is inevitable and you will know what’s coming long before it happens. But don’t let that stop you from enjoying all the baseball stories along the way.
Is the story true? In his author’s note, Grisham claims the prerogative to fictionalize, but he does base the story on the Cubs and Mets in the 1973 season. Famous names sprinkle the narrative. He also refers to the reality of baseball’s “code” – the story’s scary premise – the “ins and outs of protecting one’s teammates, and retaliation, and the complications of ‘throwing inside.'” Baseball can be a dangerous game.
Whether or not you are a fan of the game, “Calico Joe” is an easy read, with a little schmaltz and a lot of heart.