I’m taking a break from my never-ending, might-never-finish novel to share a review of Kevin Brennan’s latest novel, The Prospect. First, I need to acknowledge that I did receive an advanced copy of this wonderful novel. But I also bought the Kindle version. Just sayin’.
As you might guess from the title of this post, the novel has to do with baseball. But, there’s a twist. In this case (and this is not a spoiler), one of the characters is not your average wanna-be Big Leaguer. He is a phenomenon, what scout Bud Esterhaus would call “the living unicorn of a ballplayer.” The twist is that he is a she.
Are you a baseball fan? Do you lapse into what some might consider a foreign language when discussing America’s national pastime? I’m not, and I don’t. In fact, I know zip about baseball. But you don’t have to know baseball to become engrossed in this story of a young woman who wants to play in the big leagues with the big boys.
The story is told through Bud Esterhaus, a divorced late-middle-aged man whose real mistress was not the Elaine that his wife eventually found out about. No, although Bud argues that Elaine was his wife’s tipping point, the real wedge in their marriage, as well as in his relationship with his son, was Baseball, with a capital B. In bold, 42-point font.
In The Prospect, Bud discovers Joe Carpenter, a slim, small player who, as a military veteran at 26, is considered a bit old for the minor leagues, but that will be the least of Bud’s problems with Joe. From the book blurb, you, the reader, know that Joe is really a woman, but no one else does, which is one of the reasons why this novel is a nail-biting page-turner. Jo aka Joe manages to keep her secret for a good long while with Bud twisting himself into knots to accommodate her “eccentricities.”
What I’d never seen was a player who apparently didn’t want to be seen in any degree of undress. In a place where there’s literally nothing to be ashamed of, never taking off your clothes is bound to arouse suspicion.
I wasn’t above spreading that war-wound idea around. But I wasn’t about to ask Joe either.
When she does slip up and Bud learns of her deception, both the reader and Bud are already committed to this “living unicorn.” We’re all in, and the tension shifts from how long can Jo keep her secret to how long Bud and Jo can keep her secret. One thing to keep in mind, and I found this to be a fascinating part of the novel, is how often people see only what they want to see or expect to see.
Jo and Bud have a number of close calls, adding to the tension of the story and to Bud’s already high stress level. According to Bud, Jo is an “innocent”:
Not so much naive. Just innocent. There’s a difference. To me, a naive girl trying to play pro ball was putting herself at enormous risk but didn’t know it. Jo, the innocent, knew what the stakes were but was going to rely on her brains and her skills to get by. Her innocence was to be found in how she believed it completely possible.
I came to think of Jo as both naive and innocent. She knew what the stakes were and definitely believed in her own smarts and skills to succeed, but to believe she could maintain the deception indefinitely seemed naive. And selfish. She was 26 years old with military experience, yet Jo Carpenter didn’t consider the impact of her secret on others. It was a dream of hers to play pro. She was going to try and make it happen without regard for who got hurt. Bud was putting his own career on the line by helping her, but she never seemed to truly understand the risk he was taking. It wasn’t that Jo didn’t care about Bud. She does, in fact, come to care deeply about him. Still, it’s all about her.
In a way, Bud has the same problem. Bud is all about baseball and finds it nearly impossible to reconcile the fact that his son couldn’t care less about it. Bud does acknowledge that not every boy will grow up to love baseball, but he couldn’t meet Stan even halfway while he was growing up. Bud loved the game and–without regard for who got hurt–he put the game ahead of his family. Bud and Jo needed to find each other and go through this coming-of-age experience together. With Jo, Bud got to experience the kind of bond he had wanted with his son. She validated his need and his ability to be a father.
In turn, Jo got the guidance she needed, not just in how to play ball, but also in how to play Life. When someone believes in you, like Bud believes in Jo, everything seems “completely possible.”
When I get frustrated with a character, when I want to argue with them, that’s a pretty good indication that I’m deep in the story. I’m hooked. Plenty of times I was frustrated with Bud or Jo or both at the same time. But there were more times when I was cheering them on or commiserating with them. Brennan draws his characters so vividly that you believe they could walk off the page and into your life. With these characters, I’d also expect them to grab some beer and drag me to a baseball game. And I’d go with them … happily.
I know zip about baseball, but I know when a writer has hit one out of the park. Kevin Brennan has done just that with The Prospect.
Get your copy now at Amazon: The Prospect
Marie A Bailey
Writer, blogger, knitter, cat lover, and introvert.