Monday, February 23, 2015

KNUCKLEBALL: a dark tale for Giants fans

San Francisco writer Tom Pitts graciously sent me a review copy of his new novella, Knuckleball. It's the latest release from One Eye Press. The story is set in the Mission District and a Giants-Dodgers series at AT&T Park forms the backdrop for the action. In fact the book is organized by "Game One", "Game Two", and "Game Three" (as well as "Extra Innings" and "Post-Game") instead of by numbered chapters. If you aren't familiar with Pitts' previous work--Piggyback and Hustle, both from Snubnose Press--you should know this is neo-noir, contemporary crime fiction with a particularly gritty, street-level outlook. It's not Field of Dreams! It is however a dream by the protagonist, high school sophomore Oscar Flores, that sends him down his fateful path. Tormented by a vicious older brother, hemmed in by a neighborhood overrun with drug dealers, and frustrated by his mother's inability to get ahead despite hard work and long hours, Oscar seeks solace by following his beloved Giants. At a critical point in the first game of the series an idealistic young cop, Hugh Patterson, is viciously gunned down by an unknown assailant. As citizens and the police come to grips with the tragedy and search for the killer, Oscar makes a decision that will change his life forever.

Baseball fans know that a knuckler is hard to hit because of its unpredictability. Knuckleball, indeed, keeps you guessing with plot twists aplenty. Unlike the pitch it is fast-paced and written in a brisk, no-nonsense style that moves the story forward fluidly and with a sense of urgency. I read the book out loud to my wife Sue over the weekend and found it easy to catch the rhythm of the prose and get in tune with the dialogue. In the acknowledgments at the front of the book Pitts mentions that the Bryan Stow incident was an "impetus" for his tale. Like Oscar, we watch baseball because it isn't real life. The adventures on the field give us a play space where we can see failure and triumph, disaster and achievement, and we can live these things vicariously. Sometimes, though, real life intrudes. The tragic event in LA where Mr. Stow was brutally beaten was one of those things. That event and others like it remind us we can never entirely be free of our connections to society and our world's problems. Knuckleball lives on that edge as every character seeks escape from the humdrum and the complications of daily life but all of them are enmeshed, like all of us, in a web of relationships and responsibilities.

In good crime fiction it is not the acts of violence that matter but their consequences. On TV we get used to seeing the bad guys get caught and the story wrapped up neatly at the end of the hour. Knuckleball makes things more complicated than that. It deals with the aftermath of the killing and its impact on families, a department, and a city. Tragedies bring out the heroic in some and the venal in others and everyone in the story has something to gain from Officer Patterson's killing. Penetrating and realistic but without being cynical, Mr. Pitts manages to poke us in the eye and make us look again and think twice about life in the big, bad world. That's what all good art should do, eh? Throw in the Giants and San Francisco and you have a real winner!

Knuckleball will be released on March 24th. I'm sure you have a loved one with a birthday coming up soon--surprise them with good book.




Zo said...

Excellent cover!

M.C. O'Connor said...

Ron I hope you saw this!

Ron said...

Yes, I did. I am cautious, but it's a good sign.

Brother Bob said...

Brother Bob said...

I volunteer to be RMC's resident occasional River Cats correspondent. I'm pretty psyched that the Giants' new AAA affiliate is in my town. I like to go to a couple of River Cats games every year but always have to overlook the unpleasant fact that they are- were an A's farm team. I expect to go to significantly more games from now on and I will actually pay more attention to the players, and I promise to share my observations from time to time.

M.C. O'Connor said...

Excellent, BroB. Looking forward to more from you.