By John Grisham
Published by Doubleday
Copyright © 2012
John Grisham departs from his normal fare of legal thrillers and gives us an enjoyable story about America’s pastime, forgiveness, and redemption.
When the Chicago Cubs first baseman and his counterpart in AAA went down with injuries the team found itself in need of a first baseman and they reached down into their AA system and called up Joe Castle in the summer of 1973. Joe was a wide eyed kid with a quick bat and even quicker feet; while he might have been nervous he wasn’t intimidated. He goes on a torrid, record setting, hitting streak to start his career and helps lift the Cubbies from the middle of the pack up to first place in their division. It was the feel good story of the year. Every young boy wanted to be Joe Castle, including Paul Tracey.
Paul Tracey was the 11 year old son of another Major Leaguer, Warren Tracey, a streaky starting pitcher for the New York Mets nearing the twilight of his career. As terrible as Warren often was on the pitchers mound he was even worse as a father and husband. Paul wanted to emulate his father and gain his love, but having a new baseball hero caused conflicting emotions. When Paul’s father and hero met on the baseball diamond something happened that changes the life of these three forever.
30 years later, as Warren is only months away from dying, these events set Paul on a path to find out if there is one shred of decency left in his father.
Calico Joe is a quick and enjoyable read told from the perspective of Paul Tracey. Grisham freely admits that he takes liberties with dates, names, places, stats, and etc. Though I’m a baseball fan, I don’t mind. I know you can’t take fictional players and insert them into realistic history without messing up the space time continuum. One thing that does bother me a little is that Grisham has made our hero, Joe Castle, almost Herculean. The feats that he attains on the baseball diamond, while I guess not impossible, are so unfathomable that you might have to change its genre listing to fantasy fiction.
That being said there were many things I loved about this book. The relationship between Paul and Warren isn’t sugar coated, and in the end it isn’t magically fixed. I hate it when writers let dysfunctional family members off of the hook too easily, because life isn’t like that. One minor act of redemption cannot overshadow years of neglect and abuse. I also liked that Grisham tackled some of baseball’s unwritten rules, especially the unwritten code for throwing at a batter.
In the end I think Grisham has adequately mixed baseball with family drama. It might not be the timeless classic that baseball fans always hope for, but like a utility infielder it was strong up the middle with a serviceable bat. And at a mere 198 pages it is a really quick read.