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Posted July 26, 2011
I'm not really into sports, but the cover of J. Conrad Guest's novel, Backstop, has a woman's hand holding the ball and promises A Baseball Love Story in Nine Innings. So I learn there are nine innings in a baseball game.
I grew up English so I started this novel knowing very little about baseball-it includes a bat, a ball, and the need to run, but it's not cricket. Still, the narrator, Backstop, describes his sport and his life in this book in a way that makes me care about him and the game. Sometimes it's like listening to the guys in my family discuss football (soccer to the uninitiated). I can almost join in. I'm having fun.
J. Conrad Guest's novel feels very personable, and really is fun. I want Backstop's team to win. I want the right sort of ball. I watch to see the arm before its release-how fast will it fly?-and I listen for the crack to resound in the air. Meanwhile I learn of a young man first succumbing to then overcoming the advances of female sports fans. He wants more of life-I want more for him. He meets a girl.
The reader follows the love story, as promised, while following the game. It's an important game, an important love too, and either could be lost; commitment, trust, faithfulness. and coping with betrayal. On the field there's the player who always annoys, but perhaps still has true advice to give. Off the field there's hope.
So now I know a little more about baseball, and a little more of love. I have a sympathy for sportsmen I might not have had before, after seeing the hard sides of temptation. And I feel like I've spent time with someone honest and interesting, who loves a sport and a woman and is well worth knowing for both. Backstop's a read where slow development contrasts with fast balls, slow plans with hurried mistakes, and slow reading with quickened excitement and delight. The dialog has a sweet old-fashioned feel, pleasant humor, and serious depth, and the whole is a seriously enjoyable tale.
Disclosure: I was given a free copy of Backstop by the author, no strings attached, and chose to write a review.