Day 23 of 2022 baseball books: Now that we’re all caught up on the fiction side …

“The Catch: A Novel”

The author:
Alison Fairbrother

The publishing info:
Random House
288 pages
Released June 21, 2022

The links:
The publishers website
At TheLastBookStoreLA

The review in 90 feet or less

Given a chance to pick up a title that, by those who do such things, categorize it as both literary fiction as well as women’s fiction, we know this to be fact: We don’t often get the pleasure to read enough fiction. Especially baseball-related fiction. Maybe one title jumps out per season.

When something comes flying toward us, we take a most direct path to flag it down.

The New York Times gives this one some fair ground, we’re caught up in the synopsis:

Writers have forever used objects as a tool by which to tell their stories — Hawthorne’s letter, Maupassant’s necklace, Hammett’s falcon. … The literary object, at its most effective, is a powerful revealer of character — telling us about the people who possess it and those who covet it; those who are drawn to it and those who are repelled by it; those who deem it meaningless and those who endow it with outsize importance. In Alison Fairbrother’s warm and funny debut novel, “The Catch,” the revelatory tools are a baseball and a tie rack. … The importance of the baseball is linked to James’s most famous poem, ‘The Catch.’ And in both the poem and the novel, the title’s meaning mutates as the truth about the baseball, and therefore her father, continues to unfold.”

You had us at baseball. And for some reason, something called a “lucky baseball.”

Where do we go from here? The main character, Ellie, has a 10-year-old step brother named Van who wears at Orioles cap and loves to “pour over our father’s baseball magazines.” The father, James, loved to gather his family around the holiday table (celebrating Thanksgiving in the summer when he had custody) and emotionally recite Lou Gehrig’s famous speech (with modified echo): “Today, I consider myself, the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

And then we get to see the famous poem he wrote, “The Catch,” recited by the daughter at his funeral, which goes:

if time could kneel, as a catcher
shifts to his knees when the pitch is wild
For the summer we played in ruffled green grass,
or indoors if the sky shivered with rain,
Tossing the ball from end to end
in dusty store aisles.
Would the solid walls still echo with the hollow
slaps of our hands to leather mitts,
Or would I leave you there
your arms outstretched
as if to receive me.

Pause to ponder … Cool poem, eh?

The author, we’re also told — she actually wrote this poem as something include in the fiction work, right? — is an associate editor at Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House (which publishes Meg Wolitzer, Elizabeth Gilbert and Brit Bennett), worked as a journalist in Washington, D.C., before getting her MFA at Stony Brook University. She lives in Brooklyn.

In her acknowledgements, she also mentions her late father’s name is James.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because the lead character is a journalist in Washington, D.C., and her deceased father is named James.

Write what you know? Who knows, maybe so.

There is a payoff in the end … but …

Now you’re all caught up.

How it goes in the scorebook

Pop fly lost somewhere in the sun.

So now that summer’s here and the time is right for reading on the beach, consider this a quirky quick adventure that has an East Coast slant, solid writing references and idioms to play with, and then when you fold up the beach chair, hand it off to a young woman on her own beach towel as you depart back home. She may think you’re creepy, but you’ve played it forward.

Even suggest you throw it to her. Make her catch it.

It’s a metaphor.

We then found some affirmation from this by Kirkus Reviews: “Sure, go ahead and pack this for your next long weekend — it’s fun! That said, it doesn’t really need to make the trip home.”

Our only connection (as an older man of distinction) is the father figure — a three-times married, generally lovable guy. A writer. Enjoys competitive word play with his daughter. Treasures her wise abilities to keep him grounded in an otherwise roller-coaster existence.

There’s even this summation in the NYT review: “Ellie’s adoration of her father with some healthy ambivalence. She both worships him and understands how frustratingly boyish he is; she wants to confide in him and she wants to conceal herself from his judgment; she believes she is his favorite child, but feels uncomfortable when he praises her above her siblings. … (We also learn) charisma can be a smoke screen for darkness and an excuse for some fairly reprehensible behavior. … Despite our better judgment, we might know a man is flawed and still find him fun.”

For where we’re coming from, we don’t get his perspective. He’s gone by the end of the first chapter. What’s revealed about his life comes in dots connected going forward, without his explanations or context. Now it’s her journey to tell.

Definitely best suited for a younger woman with these sorts of life issues — including some steamy hot sexual prose about an encounter. We try to roll with it as far as need be to find out – why is this baseball so special?

We didn’t.

Explaining the book to my wife as I handed it to her to see if she was interested in reading it, she asked for a summary. I gave it to her. She asked further: So who ended up with the baseball?

I admitted that half way through I found I had lost interest in that story line, flipped to the back, started skimming paragraphs backwards, saw how it ended, smiled, and was done.

More from Publishers Weekly: “In Fairbrother’s perceptive debut … the minutiae of James’s estate eventually wears thin, but Fairbrother ably captures Ellie’s fractured world as a child of divorce, which fuels her motivation. This is a promising start.” 

On, where there is a 3.6-out-of-5 consensus so far, even in 1-star reviewer happily noted: “I have one takeaway from The Catch: to start a page in my bullet journal for the first lines of books. What a great idea!”

Especially if you’re in college lit class trying to learn basic novel structure.

You can look it up: More to ponder

== Our recent attempts to review baseball fiction: “The Cactus League,” 2020, by Emily Nemens; “The Resisters,” 2020, by Gish Jen; “Escape from Castro’s Cuba” by Tim Wendell in 2021, along with “This Never Happened: The Mystery Beyind the Death of Christy Mathewson” by J.B. Manheim and “Big League Life” by Chip Scarinzi.

== Our recent attempts to understand baseball and fiction in talking with Ron Kaplan and his book, “501 Baseball Books to Read Before You Die.”

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