Stephen King,
Blockade Billy
(Cemetery Dance, 2010)

Before I even opened this book, I thought, "Blockade Billy has two things going for it: Stephen King and baseball."

Stephen King and I go way back. Carrie was the first novel to keep me awake at night. 'Salem's Lot made me sleep with the light on for a week. As I grew older, I drifted toward science fiction and fantasy, but King is part of my reading identity, one of the authors who made me the reader I am today.

And who hasn't had a love affair with baseball? That pastoral sport is a rite of spring. It's been a staple at every company picnic and family reunion since the early days of the game in the 1830s. The cry of "heybatterbatterswing!" is as much a harbinger of summer as the buzz of lawnmowers and the click-click-clicking of water sprinklers.

In his new novella, Blockade Billy, King marries his unique style of storytelling to his love of baseball and ends up with pitch-perfect results. Along the way, he violates several rules of fiction writing. The story is told entirely in a narrative flashback by a single character. The narrator is speaking to a second character, a "Mr. King," who never speaks, is never described and never does anything. And yet, in spite of this lack of respect for the so-called writing rules, the book works.

King's easy, conversational style perfectly suits the narrator, cranky retired baseball coach and manager George "Granny" Grantham. Granny weaves the tale of the long-forgotten William "Blockade Billy" Blakely, a simple country bumpkin whose genius for the game sparked a frenzy among New Jersey Titans fans in the late 1950s. The tale of Billy's fall from grace and subsequent erasure from the record books makes for a fun tale.

And, as is usually the case with King's works, the ending holds a twist we didn't see coming, a twist that alters the story irrevocable, a twist that changes the characters forever.

Cover artist Glen Orbik's painting mimics the style of the Saturday Evening Post covers by Norman Rockwell. When paired with the interior ink drawings of Alex McVey, the artwork may lead one to believe that this book is suitable for children. However, be advised the language can be rather crude, as the narrative character spent the majority of his working life in a locker room. Parents should preview the book for suitability.

I rarely read Stephen King's works these days. I'm a different person than the teenager who once hid under the blankets from the vampires he sent lurking at my window. And yet, with this novella, I am reminded of the things that make King a great American writer.

Sorry. I have to say it:

With Blockade Billy, King has hit a home run.

[ visit the author's website ]

book review by
Belinda Christ

14 August 2010

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