Day 26 of (at least) 30 baseball book reviews for spring/summer 2020: We’ve resisted this long enough


“The Resisters”

The author:

Gish Jen

The publishing info:
Knopf Doubleday
320 pages
Released Feb. 4

The links:
At the publishers website
At Barnes and Noble
At Powells
At the author’s website

The review in 90 feet or less

We’re in a time warp. Again.

In the time we’ve given ourselves to focus on acceptance of  “The Resisters,” and what this dystopian look at a world that must include baseball because a bat and ball are part of its cover artwork, we’re not sure how far we want to stretch any bigger bang trashcan theories into what this premise promises to offer.

GishJenWe did become enamored with the challenge of considering this after a review/interview in the L.A. Times by Bethanne Patrick that gave a better taste of what’s ahead:

“‘The Resisters’ is set in a near-future America, narrated by a man named Grant; he has a wife, Eleanor, and a daughter, Gwen. Citizens are now sorted into categories of ‘Netted’ — working, producing — and ‘Surplus’ — unemployed and relegated to floating ‘Flotsam Towns.’ Grant and Eleanor try to live off the grid, growing their own food because the free provisions doled out by the surveillance state (‘Aunt Nettie’) may be laced with sedatives or other drugs.
“Gwen is a talented pitcher, and when her throwing arm draws the attention of the establishment, she’s offered a chance to attend ‘Net U’ for free, forcing the entire family to make some tough choices.
“ ‘The bad news is that they are the underclass,’ Jen says, ‘but that’s the good news too, you know? This family has a lucky niche in the world I created, one they’ve done a lot with, which weirdly makes Gwen kind of — privileged is the wrong word — but [it] allows her to think differently’.”

We think differently frequently, yet resist change at almost every turn. Until we’re convinced it’s safe to go outside with our own devices.

There was one more reference point coming from Jane Leavy, whose recent work, “The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World he Created” remains a best-seller: “I love this novel as much as I fear the future Gish Jen has conjured in it.” 

That’s also our conundrum.

At a time when we’re already unraveling the seams of a baseball with a ballpoint pin and a pair of scissors, it seems this could add more anxiety, treading on paths we’ve never taken. We could envision that this is where baseball could be going someday, and we’re just extremely uncomfortable.

Sci-fi/fantasy isn’t necessarily our bag of worms. No trekking into “Star Trek” or “Star Wars” or low-tech “Battle of the Network Stars.”

There is also this whole side trip on what go into determine a child prodigy, and how parents groom kids to be athletes — that seems to never be going away, based on this book’s layout.

But if baseball is so underground, and they are labeled as Surplus, what happens to this sport?

One other twist on this, from the book publisher: Deftly mingling humor and dread, Jen takes readers play-by-play through a world of risks and simple joys. Her prose reminds us what baseball means to the world, how it informs what we believe about ourselves — and how we might feel if it was something other than the national pastime, something more subversive.

An excerpt

Also from the publishers website:

Part I: A Girl with a Golden Arm

As her parents, Eleanor and I should have known earlier. But Gwen was a preemie, to begin with. That meant oxygen at first and, after that, special checkups. And her early months were bumpy. She had jaundice; she had roseola; she had colic. She had a heart murmur. Things that I can now see distracted us—especially with the One Chance Policy, we were focused on her health to the exclusion of all else. For the Netted, it was different, of course, but for us Surplus, the limit was one pregnancy per couple, and Eleanor was just out of jail. Outside the house, she had a DroneMinder tracking her every move; the message was clear. She was not getting away with anything.

And in any case, we loved Gwen and would never have wanted to replace her, worried though we were that she was delicate—that she might never consume the way she needed to, the way we all needed to. Not that charges of underconsumption couldn’t be fought in the courts. This was AutoAmerica, after all. For all the changes wrought by AI and Automation—now rolled up with the internet into the iBurrito we called Aunt Nettie—we did still have a Constitution. …

And so it is only now that we can see there were signs. All children take what’s in their crib and throw it, for example. It is universal. But Gwen threw her stuffed animals straight through her bedroom doorway. They shot out, never so much as grazing the door frame, and they always hit the wall of the staircase across from her bedroom at a certain spot, with the precise force they needed to bounce forward and drop clean down to the bottom of the stairwell. Was she maybe two when she did this? Not even, although she was already a southpaw. And already she seemed to have unusually long arms and long fingers …

I had bought Gwen a pink Spaulding ball at an underground yard sale and seen how she laughed as she threw it at my nose. I had seen how she laughed, too, when I found her a tiny baseball glove, at another underground sale….

Gwen’s particular gift awed us in a special way. Was there not something miraculous about it — this ability? This talent? This knack? This utterly useless aptitude? … As a father, all I wanted was to see her, in all her giftedness and idiosyncratic humanity, bloom.

Excerpted from The Resisters by Gish Jen. Copyright © 2020 by Gish Jen. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

How it goes in the scorebook

If H.G. Wells meets David Wells, does all end well for us? Or is it too Orwellian to even fancy?

We could resist trying to think along with those who will come in the future yet still have a want for baseball. But we felt more of this “Catch 22” approach of wanting to like what the future may hold. And, if it’s this, we shall stay resistant, but not take away from the author’s mindful execution of picking this sport as the one to interweave into futurama TV programming.

The mother of invention: The

More voices

== We asked Emily Nemens from “The Cactus League” about Jen’s book last month and she replied: “I have read it — Gish and I actually did an event together earlier this winter. I admire the book, and think it’s uncanny we both arrived at baseball (and blue covers) at the same moment. Though I don’t think you could find two more different takes: Mine is realist and looking at the recent past, hers is dystopian and looking at the near future. They’re both enjoyable reads, and I think they share some commentary about the state of America and its historic symbols of strength. But they’re quite different otherwise.

== From NPR:  “Over the past century, (baseball) has provided an endlessly flexible metaphorical vocabulary for almost every aspect of American life. The allegory is so apt, Jen could almost have made her heroines bake apple pies (they also bake apple pies). But baseball is also a real sport, and ‘The Resisters’ finds no tactile joy in it, nothing that would call up glove snaps, bat cracks, or the smell of grass. The games themselves feel interminable, metaphorically weighted but bloodless. (It seems pedantic, too, to note that Jen seems confused about when foul balls count as strikes).”

== From New York Newsday: “It’s a ‘1984’ for our times.”

== The Washington Post: “There’s a darkness to dystopia: it’s embedded in the very word —  the opposite of a utopia, a world gone wrong. The magic … is that, amid a dark and cautionary tale, there’s a story also filled with electricity and humor — and baseball. At its heart, the novel is about the act of resistance and its attendant forces of courage and hope.”

== The New York Times: “We live in a moment when ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is a hit television show, and Kellyanne Conway’s use of the term ‘alternative facts’ reminded so many readers of the double talk in George Orwell’s classic ‘1984’ that the novel hit the best-seller list seven decades after its original publication. The public seems to feel that the worst speculative fictions are coming true. Of course, Margaret Atwood would contend that ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ was true even as it was written. Perhaps Gish Jen could make a similar argument about much of ‘The Resisters.’ The hope she offers, though, lies in the book’s title, and in the heroism of its family of Bartlebys, who resist both the lure of conveniences and the threats of the powerful, with one phrase: I would prefer not to.”

== One more New York Times review: “In his authoritative biography of Henry Aaron, Howard Bryant wrote: ‘Hitting, it could be argued, represented the first meritocracy in Henry’s life.’ Jen’s novel has plenty to say about race and class and the search for a level playing field. The trouble is that ‘The Resisters’ is too easy to resist.”

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