Calico Joe: A Novel by John Grisham (New York: Doubleday, 2012. 194 pp)
A Rising Star
1973, a year of splendor for baseball. The National League East has six teams contending, and due to an injury, the Cubs add a minor leaguer to the roster named Joe Castle, from Calico Rock, Arkansas. Joe immediately sets records, and leads the Cubs to the top of the division. He even hits three home runs in his first three bats.
“As stunning as his first three at bats had been, Joe’s fourth would endear him to baseball purists forever. Top of the ninth, score tied 6-6, two outs, Don Kessinger standing on third, a tough right-hander named Ed Ramon on the mound. As Joe stepped to the plate, a few of the eighteen thousand fans clapped politely, then an odd silence settled across Veterans Stadium. Ramon’s first pitch was a fastball on the outside part of the plate. Joe waited, then whipped his bat like a broomstick, crushing the ball and lining it a few inches outside the bag at first base, a foul ball, but an impressive one nonetheless…The second pitch was a changeup, high. With the count 1 and 1, Ramon tried another fastball. As soon as he released it, Joe hesitated a split second, then broke for first base with his bat trailing. It tapped the ball slightly and sent it dribbling toward the second baseman…Players from both teams looked on in disbelief. With a chance to hit four home runs in a game—a feat baseball had seen only nine times in a hundred years—the kid chose instead to lay down a perfect drag bunt to score the go-ahead run” (11-12).
The Sins of a Father
Castle then meets up with pitcher Warren Tracey, whose son is the book’s narrator. Warren pitches for the New York Mets, and simply put, is a jerk. Warren abuses his family, drinks constantly, and chases women. He also made his son hate both him and the game of baseball.
“For me, baseball was a joy to play when my father wasn’t watching. Because of his schedule, he rarely had the chance to see my games, and that was an indescribable relief. When he was there, though, I had no desire to play. He would lecture me on the way to the park, snarl at me during the game, and, worst of all, berate me all the way home. He even slapped me once as soon as we were driving away from the field. From the age of seven, I cried after every game my father saw me play” (16).
“‘[B]efore he’s gone, I would like for the two men to have a word.’‘What kind of word?’‘I’m not sure, but ideally I would like my father to apologize.’‘Have you discussed this with your father?’‘No, not yet, and before I do, I need to know if Joe will agree to a meeting.’‘I doubt seriously if that can happen, Paul. And it would be a huge mistake for Warren Tracey to show up here in Calico Rock. That could start some serious trouble’” (76).
Have you grown tired of Grisham’s law novels? Do you enjoy his writing? Have you read this book and found it to be exhilarating, or just ridden with Hallmark moments? Share your thoughts below.
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