For seventeen-year-old Danny Boles, a 5' 5" shortstop out of Tenkiller, Oklahoma, the summer of 1943 would be a season to remember. The country's at war, and professional baseball needs able-bodied men. Danny's headed for Highbridge, Georgia - home of the Goober Pride peanut butter factory and the Highbridge Hellbenders, a Class C farm club in the Chattahoochee Valley League. He's a scrappy player with one minor quirk: a violent encounter on the train to Georgia has rendered him mute, his vocal cords tied up in knots.
Danny's idiosyncrasy, however, is nothing compared to that of his new Hellbender roommate, an erudite seven-foot giant by the name of Jumbo Hank Clerval. With his yellow eyes, strangely scarred face, and sausage-sized fingers, Hanks seems to have been put together in a meat-packing plant. But he plays a mean first base and can hit the ball a mile. With the Hellbenders in a pennant race as hot as the relentless Georgia sun, the eloquent Clerval forms a special kinship with the speechless kid from Oklahoma. Danny soon realizes that Hank is not an ordinary man but something more complex . . . more mysterious than he'd imagined.
Frankenstein meets Field of Dreams in this nostalgic, gracefully written but fundamentally flawed baseball novel. Set in a sleepy Georgia town during WW II, this coming-of-age saga is based on the real-life story of Danny Boles, a major league scout who died of throat cancer in 1989. The fictional Boles leaves his rural Oklahoma digs to become shortstop for the Hightower Hellbenders, vaulting the Class C team into a pennant race in the process. Veteran writer Bishop ( No Enemy but Time ) delivers smooth and polished baseball prose and does some nice tricks with sports colloquialisms. He also tackles gritty issues such as the origins--in sexual abuse--of Boles's stuttering, the ravages of war and the rampant racism that plagued the sport. More problematic is Boles's huge teammate, slugging first baseman Henry ``Jumbo'' Cerval, who bears a suspicious resemblance to the gargantuan outcome of Victor Frankenstein's grand experiment. In the beginning, Bishop presents Cerval as a literate, likable freak. As the season unfolds, Cerval is revealed as the original monster, having escaped and survived for almost a century in the frozen North. Bishop milks the ludicrous premise for an intriguingly macabre ending, but the real problem is that Henry is far more interesting as a flawed human than as a scientific creation. That flaw aside, Brittle Innings should prove an engaging read for both sports buffs and fiction fans.