I was hesitant to recommend “Calico Joe” as part of a summer reading list for the magazine I work at, mostly because while I have adored John Grisham’s stories in the past, I was really, really disappointed with one of his more recent efforts, “The Associate.” But I thought, “Hey, it’s a book about baseball—as long as I don’t expect another “The Art of Fielding,” I’m sure it will be fine.
And it was. Pleasantly fine. The perfect “I need a book I can finish in an afternoon” kind of fine.
The book centers on the tragedy that befalls fictional Cubbie Joe Castle, thanks to a wretch of a human being (and a Met!) Warren Tracey. A bad husband, a bad dad and a bad-attitude pitcher, Warren can’t stand to see Joe skyrocket to fame and ends his career in a heinous fashion. Years later, it’s Warren’s estranged son Paul that reaches out to Warren in a last-ditch (death is sharpening his sycthe) effort to bring resolution, and perhaps a small piece of redemption for the two men whose lives were irrevocably altered by a single pitch.
The book has a homey feel to it and is difficult to set aside—you want to know if anyone involved finds the peace they need to close the book on the past and move on. It’s just this side of schmaltzy—if Joe had a pregnant wife beaned by one of game-winning home runs who then became comatose and died shortly after childbirth, I’d say he was treading very dangerously in the sappy sap waters of a certain Nicholas Sparks. It’s a fine line and Grisham manages to stay on the right side of it. That said, I had that, “Awww…” kind of feeling as I read the last page and knew it hadn’t been time wasted. Great story — and suitable for younger teens as well. There’s some domestic violence, but nothing earth-shattering.
Father’s Day. Go get it.