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Book Review! Blockade Billy by Stephen King

Ah, the enduring Mr. Stephen King has written again. For most King fans, I bet his baseball-inspired novella, Blockade Billy, comes as no surprise — and not just because it was first published on April 20 of this year by the independent horror house Cemetery Dance. More specifically, it’s no big secret that the man loves his baseball – his characters are forever donning Red Sox apparel and he’s a frequent attendant at Fenway Park, truly a diehard BoSox fan – so it was only a matter of time before he married his two interests, right?

Horror and baseball, not exactly an easy sell.

The thing about writing sports themed fiction is that it can be tricky to really capture your audience. Some people just don’t give a flying — uh — foul (ugh) about baseball, but Stephen King manages to steer clear of bogging down his novella with too many cliches, and while there is a bit of technical jargon that might go over the non-baseball-enthusiast’s head, it isn’t enough to detract from the story.

The tale of William Blakely is narrated by the New Jersey Titans’ one time third-base coach, George “Granny” Grantham, who’s reminiscing with “Mr. King” some fifty years after the dark events surrounding Billy Blakely’s baseball career. We meet Granny in a “zombie hotel” (aka the nursing home) where he’s in a crotchety state of being. Granny’s casual, slightly profane voice recollects a different time when men were men and baseball was baseball and nobody wore skinny jeans. It’s 1957 and baseball is fabulously untainted by steroid scandals and huge salaries but about to be forever changed by one man’s very dark secret.

“Sure, I’ll tell you about Billy Blakely,” Grantham begins. “Awful story, of course, but those are the ones that last longest.”

Billy Blakely is called up from the minors after an unfortunate incident with New Jersey Titans’ catcher, Johnny Goodkind. The incident involves a bit of drunk driving, a little vehicular homicide and upchucking all over the arresting officer. Not a great way to prove sobreity. As Granny tells it, “Johnny Goodkind’s career in baseball was over before the puke dried.” That guy’s replacement gets hammered at home plate shortly thereafter, which knocks him out of the game (and into a hospital) and, hence! Billy gets his shot at the big time. (In Newark, New Jersey apparently. Who knew?)

The new kid becomes a sensation overnight with his hard-hitting, home plate-blocking, all around studly baseball deeds. The fans love him and his teammates find that they can simply look past all of his oddities, like the way he refers to himself in the third person and parrots his friend Danny, or his wearing a band-aid on a finger with no wound, or having no clue as to who Cy Young is. Yeah, weird. But easily forgivable with such excellent baseball prowess! Who cares if he’s a little soft in the head if he can outplay everybody else?

But! As all things tend to do, especially in Stephen King’s world, Billy’s secret finally boils over. Without giving anything away, it’s safe to say that the Titans’ season is ruined by said dark secret and William Blakely’s name, accomplishments and career are stricken from the records forever.

If you’re a fan of the sport and a fan of Stephen King, pick this up. It’s a light (and yet distinctly dark) read that will definitely get you in the baseball spirit. It’s a throwback to a different era, when baseball was the National Pastime, played by nitty gritty, never-go-to-the-doctor types of men with an enduring passion for the sport. (Broken fingers? No problem! Rub a little dirt in that wound and get back out there, champ!)

If you’re not a baseball fan? Well, it’s still very entertaining. Even though you don’t have the chance to get REALLY in depth with the characters (being under 200 pages doesn’t exactly allow for great character development in this case), you still get to read a well written, distinctly Stephen King-esque story. His passion for the sport shines through in the text and it’s almost infectious… but not in an obnoxious way. That alone can be a super tough balance for a writer to strike when he loves his subject as King so clearly loves baseball.

Now go! Read and be merry, comrades!

(And if you know of any great books you’d like to see reviewed, don’t hesitate to suggest them!)

Comments

  1. JB LEE says:

    BILLY BLOCKADE WAS ENTERTAINING FOR ME MOSTLY BECAUSE OF THE BASEBALL ASPECT. FOR A SHORT STORY I FOUND IT PROFOUND. NOT THE BEST STEPHEN KING BUT IT WILL SUFFICE.

    MORALITY LEFT ME IN QUANDRY AND I GUESS THAT MAY BE THE POINT OF THE STORY. IT CERTAINLY GETS YOU THINKING, ALTHOUGH IT LEFT ME FLAT.

  2. Dawn says:

    I read in an interview a few years back with Stephen King and he mentioned possibly getting together with Peter Straub and doing a third “Jack Sawyer” book. That would be like totally uber-awesome!

  3. thats 1 of my favorit books! Good thing

  4. Brian Robinson says:

    Sounds like an enjoyable read, thanks for the excellent review.

  5. “The Talisman” is great. It also has a sequel called “Black House” and Jack’s Character get’s a shoutout in “Tommyknockers” as well. Question: Wouldn’t Tommyknockers make a great Tranny porn title?

  6. Christian says:

    Anyone remember the sk story of his sons little leage baseball team march to Maine state championship, and little league world series? One of my fav sk shorts.

  7. Ryan says:

    Try the Dresden files. A grown up Harry Potter.

  8. Sarah says:

    Oh btw, i think “The Long Walk” was a Richard Bachman book, Stephen Kings psuedonym

  9. Sarah says:

    My favorite Stephen King Book is “The Talisman”. It’s over 700 pages but well worth it. I’ve read it so many times, my copy fell apart :( . Also, another great crack-like SK book is “The Long Walk”

  10. Hahahaa, that comment literally made me LOL. Touche, sir… touche.

  11. C.A.B. Fredericks says:

    Oops, obviously IMG tags don’t work in the comments. That was supposed to come with this: http://dkpresents.files.wordpress.com/2009/10/road.jpg

  12. C.A.B. Fredericks says:

    “…ecollects a different time when men were men and baseball was baseball and nobody wore skinny jeans. It’s 1957…”

    Jack Kerouac’s penis would like to have a word with you, Jessica.

    (great piece, though!)

  13. Jessica Barton says:

    Thanks for the suggestions, guys!

    @Dawn — you’re TOTALLY right, I completely forgot to add “Morality” in here. You’re also correct on all of your points! It was in Esquire first and is definitely a good read. Not my favorite of his short stories, but a good one all the same.

  14. Dawn says:

    You forgot to mention the second novella in the book “morality”. This was originally published in esquire magazine about a year ago and that story is a great one. So if you aren’t much of a baseball fan flip to the second story and you should be satisfied. 😀 The book is fairly small in itself so if fans are looking for a big book, blink and you might miss it.

  15. Waytokeen says:

    Looks to be a good one to add to the list for the short summer nites in doors. Thanks for the heads up.

  16. pigletmommy says:

    I’ll go order that one from the library right now. I love that King is a Red Sox fan and love seeing him in the crowd when I watch the games. Yeah I’m a geeky girl with a thing for Red Sox baseball, sorry guys I’m taken.

    If you like books with that old style feel. Try reading Finn by Jon Cinch. It is about Huck Finns father and basically tells you what an ass he was. Good read.

  17. I’d suggest Sixty One Nails, not sure how whether it’s been published Stateside yet, but it’s a brilliant urban fantasy book.