Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Anyone who has explored my website beyond the review pages is sure to notice that I am a baseball fan, maintaining a bibliography of science fictional baseball stories. While many of those stories and novels include sections about baseball, only a handful are specifically about baseball, most notably, perhaps, the novels of W.P. Kinsella, on whose novel Shoeless Joe to film "Field of Dreams" was based. However, in 1994, Michael Bishop stepped up to the rubber and threw his own baseball novel across the plate. Brittle Innings is part historical fiction, part baseball novel, part fantasy and one great novel.
Set during the summer of 1943, Danny Boles is traveling on a train from his hometown of Tenkiller, OK to join the Highbridge Hellbenders, a class C farm club in the Chattahoochee Valley League. President Roosevelt's decision that baseball would continue during the war gave Boles a shot at the professionals. On the train, he has a violent encounter with men who claimed to Boles's absentee father owed them money leaves him without a voice, a condition Boles is in for the majority of the novel.
When the now mute Boles arrives in Highbridge, he is roomed with Hank "Jumbo" Clerval, a player who scares the rest of the team. Clerval turns out to be an highly educated polyglot and he serves as Boles's protector. Eventually, their roles will be reversed after Bishop reveals that Clerval is really the monster from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.
Clerval's character has very little in common with the hulking green monster which Boris Karloff brought to life on the screen. Instead, Bishop went back to Mary Shelley's original novel and based his monster on the creature she delineated. More importantly, perhaps, is that Bishop modelled his own writing style on Mary Shelley's for the portion of the book after Clerval's identity is revealed (about half-way through). What is really spectacular about Brittle Innings is the way Bishop ties the disparate threads of his story together in a realistic way, peppering the narrative with in-jokes for the educated and discerning reader.
Like Kim Newman's re-examination of the Dracula in Anno Dracula, Michael Bishop's novel is much better than the premise would give the reader any right to believe it would be. Bishop succeeds, in part, because he infuses his writing with a clear love for both the game of baseball and the Frankenstein story.
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