Book Review: “Fadeaway,” by Richard Dean Rosen

Fadeaway, by Richard Dean Rosen

I took a break from Shaquille O’Neal’s autobiography to start another edition of the Best American Sports Writing series, then another from BASW to make some more progress on Hunter S. Thompson’s The Great Shark Hunt.

When I needed a break from that, I decided to grab a work of fiction, just for a change of pace. I went with Fadeaway, a 1986 crime novel by Richard Dean Rosen.

Fadeaway tells the story of Harvey Blissberg, a recently retired baseball player who becomes a private investigator. The Boston Celtics hire him to look into the disappearance, and then quickly murder, of one of their players.

I don’t read a lot of crime novels, but this seemed like a pretty good one: A brisk pace that still builds a sense of mystery; plot twists that don’t feel forced and come at exactly the right moments; enough details to make the story easy to visualize

With the book itself, I just have a few minor complaints. Rosen inexplicably refers to the NCAA as the “N C double A” — a very awkward construction of that acronym that breaks the rhythm of whatever sentence in which it appears. And Rosen spells out the accent of Frank Heaney, a college basketball coach central to the plot, in a way that’s hard to read and actually makes the character sound slightly mentally disabled.

But these are tiny hang-ups in what was otherwise a very enjoyable reading experience. I found myself regretting every time I had to put the book down.

Unrelated to the plot, Fadeaway left me with two big questions.

Why was Blissberg a baseball player?

Blissberg seems like a pretty good detective. He’s intuitive, persistent, creative, intelligent, comprehensive — all the qualities necessary to work in that field. And he uses those skills to solve the case in a satisfying and realistic way.

Before becoming a private eye, Blissberg played for the Red Sox and made-up expansion team the Providence Jewels. That life impacts Blissberg in two ways: it gives him a passing familiarity with Providence, where much of the book takes place, and it creates a hostile relationship with the various local sports writers with whom he has to work.

But Blissberg’s prior knowledge of Providence could’ve been easily replicated by looking at a map for like 10 minutes. And here’s how every interaction with a reporter happens: the reporter says something nasty, Blissberg asks for help, then the reporter always gives it to him, usually within half a page. For all the bluster, not once does a reporter actually impede Blissberg’s ability to do his job.

Continue reading Book Review: “Fadeaway,” by Richard Dean Rosen

Book Review: “The Art of Fielding” by Chad Harbach

"The Art of Fielding," by Chad Harbach

Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding tells the tale of Westish College, a D-III school in northwest Wisconsin. Their athletic program has historically been about as successful as any tiny, unheard-of school ever is, but that changes when catcher Mike Schwartz discovers defensive wunderkind Henry Skrimshander one summer and convinces him to come to Westish and play shortstop for the Harpooners. The book follows Skrimshander’s successes, struggles and repercussions for the other characters.

Focusing on Baseball, Harbach Starts Strong

The Art of Fielding (named for a mythological treatise on playing shortstop by that Skrimshander basically memorizes) follows fiction’s standard three-act structure: introduce the characters, introduce the conflict, resolve the conflict. But since most of the people in this book play baseball, perhaps depicting it as a nine-inning game would be more appropriate.

Harbach breezes through the first three innings, going once through the lineup without making a mistake. He writes with an easy-going, briskly paced style that taps into all of baseball’s nostalgia without giving up the setting of a modern college. Students text, listen to iPods, play Tetris – it’s hard to romanticize the modern college experience, but Harbach pulls it off admirably.

We meet Schwartz first, then Skrimshander, and the first few chapters are almost exclusively about baseball. Then we meet Guert Affenlight, the school’s president, and finally his grown-up daughter Pella. Harbach’s most cerebral, psychologically complex character, Pella shifts the book’s tone from a breezy, fast-moving narrative to a plodding, psychological exploration of all four characters.

Continue reading Book Review: “The Art of Fielding” by Chad Harbach