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If I Never Get Back: A Novel Paperback – May 1, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
This highly entertaining, inherently cinematic debut blends two genres, the baseball story and the time-travel fantasy, that have been more at home on screen than on the page. The author wastes no time in establishing (or explaining) his premise; mere pages into the first chapter, Sam Fowler, a discontented journalist whose family life has disintegrated, steps off Amtrak and into 1869. Before he can get his bearings, he's a member of the Cincinnati Red Stockings, witnessing baseball in its infancy with an unbeatable team. Brock steeps his story in period detail, from the smell of kerosene in a railroad car to a daring "leg show" in old New York, and devotes long passages to early baseball lore, with play-by-play descriptions that will test the patience of non-fans. As well, he doesn't stint on the anachronistic details that always spark this kind of story: along the way, his hero invents ballpark hotdogs, the scoreboard, "Red River Valley" and the bunt. Throw in a century-spanning romance, nefarious gamblers and a cameo by Mark Twain, and the result is a winning fable about dreaming away reality that is both hokey and irresistible. 50,000 first printing; $40,000 ad/promo.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“A rawhide odyssey … meticulously historical.… By now the reader is asking ‘And then? And then?’ like a child listening to a storyteller.”—Time “Grabs you from line one on page one and never lets go. Enchanting.” —San Francisco Chronicle “An engrossing, even charming tale.… By its final inning, the reader is sad to see it end.” —The New York Times Book Review“A grand adventure and joyful embrace of baseball the way it ought to be played … If I Never Get Back should be required reading for players and owners as well as fans.”—The Washington Times
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And I also love baseball. (GO DBACKS!)
So when a friend told me about this older novel, I picked up a used copy. I'm glad I did, even though my feelings about the story are mixed. It has moments of absolute wonderfulness, but the storytelling sometimes seems as though the author painted himself into a corner and couldn't find a gracious way out. There are wet footprints through the plot, as a result. And the ending is unsettling.
However, the setup and the setting are outstanding. Our hero, Sam Fowler, is a San Francisco journalist who's coping badly with a divorce, and is called to Cincinnati to deal with his father's death. When his Amtrak has an unscheduled stop, Sam wanders away from the train... and into a fog. When he emerges, he's in 1869, with the members of the Cincinnati Red Stockings -- the first paid baseball team -- clambering onto their own train. With a bit of plot arm-waving (which is fine with me), Sam gets tied into the ball club's road trip... and into their lives.
If you're a baseball fan, it's probably worth the price of the novel just for the lesson in baseball history. The rules were wholly different. The culture was unlike anything we expect. (What's a hot dog?) The technology was nonexistent (count attendance? what's a turnstile?). It's a hoot.
Even better: Brock does a great job of immersing us in a different time and place. For example, the transcontinental railroad is only four years old, and generates the kind of wonder we felt about space travel. We bump into Mark Twain, who acts just as Mark Twain would. The language differences are especially entertaining, since Sam uses anachronistic idioms that his friends don't understand ("You're kidding!"); at one point he and another "ballist" exchange insults, and neither have any idea what the other is saying.
On the other hand, the plot and love story is kind of weak, and somehow I found myself uncaring of the social issues that intertwined the events.
But it's an okay read. I won't press it on you, but I did enjoy reading the book.