Top critical review
As baseball fiction: fine...
Reviewed in the United States on April 12, 2012
...but as fine fiction...not so much.
With "Calico Joe", John Grisham breaks from his signature laywering tales and presents us with a baseball novel.
If you are a fan of baseball fiction, you'll recognize many of the memes:
--a young phenom (Joe Castle, from Calico Rock Arkansas) with superman stats and a sparking personality who makes a big splash with the 1973 Chicago Cubs in the thick of a pennant race. Superman stats and a sparking personality.
--a marginal veteran (journeyman pitcher Warren Tracy, languishing with the Mets in the summer of '73), who is flawed to the core as a player and as a person.
-a starry-eyed baseball dreamer (Warren's 13-year old son, Paul) who lives under the iron rules of his father and whose love affair with with game withers under his father's relentless verbal and physical attacks.
Joe and Warren meet on the the field the thick of a pennant race. Disaster strikes in the form of a beanball from Warren, and the book is centered on the movement towards their next meeting, a generation later, when Castle has moved on from his promising start and its abrupt end and as Warren is at the end of his own downward spiral, health failing and every person who was ever close to him distant and bitter.
There are no surprises in this book. Neither Warren nor Joe break from the archetype presented when they are introduced. As a piece of fiction, this is not a cerebral challenge. As a piece of baseball writing: baseball fans are likely to enjoy it (especially Grisham's conceit of placing real 1970s players into the book), while those looking for literature that delivers surprises from its characters can expect to come away empty handed.
Worth reading if you are baseball fan. If not, consider instead Joseph Schuster's "The Might Have Been", a book succeeds in reaching beyond the baselines as a novel.