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Talkin’ Baseball

Parents Behaving Badly: A Novel by Scott Gummer (Touchstone, $23.00, 224 pages)

You can observe a lot by just watching.   – Yogi Berra

Parents Behaving Badly is a solid, if not spectacular, offering by Scott Gummer.   Gummer has likely drawn from some of his experiences as a participant, parent, and youth sports coach to craft a story familiar to most people with sons – the saga of a summer spent on the diamonds of Little League baseball.

The main character, Ben Holden, is the son of a local coaching legend known to everyone simply as, you guessed it, Coach.   Though the entire town reveres the man, as is often the case, the emotions of his own children are a bit more complicated.   Ben’s older brother, Fred, is the talented screw up, while Ben – the moderately talented overachiever – quits baseball to run track.   Sister Nancy spends  most of  her life moving from man to man with speculation that her hang-ups somehow trace back to her relationship with her father.   Ben is clearly the most centered and focused of the three children.

When Ben and his wife Jili return to their hometown in California from a stint out East, their two boys express an interest in playing Little League ball.   About two-thirds of the way into the season, their oldest son Andrew’s coach gets suspended by the league for inappropriate behavior, and Ben is thrust into the role of being the team’s coach.   His players and parents are forced to adjust to a new philosophy – going from “win at all costs” to “have fun playing the game.”   The shift is far from an easy one, and you can guess for yourself whether the “good guys” win at the end.

Along the way, past relationships and high school memories are revisited (Ben and Jili went to the same high school and started dating in college), and many local characters resurface throughout the story.   Middle age adult behaviors, lifestyle adjustments, and sexual obsessions are as much or more of the story as is our country’s troubled evolution of youth participation in sports (and the often  misguided parental attitudes associated with it).

The author appears to rush through the plot’s action in order to get at the complicated themes that line the story.   The reader nevertheless is interested in turning the page to find out what happens next.   Characters are introduced in rapid succession in the initial two chapters, making it a bit difficult to truly get to know them.   They’re a bit stereotypical but, in fairness, easy to relate to.  

Anyone who has spent as little as five minutes at a Little League game has seen these people:  the coach who has to prove his self-worth by winning baseball games featuring 12-year-olds; the parents who drive their children to the point of quitting; the mom-slut who thinks that everywhere she goes, someone is dying to look at her scantily clad body; the daughter who spends every waking moment texting and Twittering; the middle-aged male who spends much of the day daydreaming about having a sex life, etc., etc., etc.

When Ben first takes over as the team’s coach, he comes across as completely clueless, which is hard to believe considering his father’s history.   The fact that he quickly develops a reasonable degree of competence is not the most believable portion of the tale, although it may be a logical outcome.   As one who has experienced the shenanigans of Little League draft rooms and the frequently politically motivated – and arguably unethical selection – selection of post-season All-Star teams, these sections are quite strong.   Also, they are either hilarious or sadly pathetic depending on your perspective.

Recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Mr. Moyer is the author of Life and Life Only, a novel of baseball and Bob Dylan.   A recommended memoir that covers much of the same territory is The Opposite Field by Jesse Katz (Three Rivers Press, $15.00, 352 pages).

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The Author’s Perspective

Today we’re continuing and concluding our two-part interview with writer Jenna Blum, author of the novels The Stormchasers and Those Who Save Us.

3.   What is the hardest part of publicizing a novel?   Is it answering personal questions, the time spent traveling, trying to write the next book as you travel, missing friends and family, etc.?

I actually love publicizing my novels, so I don’t find anything about it difficult!   I do admit that I’m something of an extremist.   I travel a lot more than many writers do, 300 days of the year, to events, fundraisers, book clubs, colleges and libraries across the country  — literally from Seattle to Florida and everywhere in between — to talk about my novels.   I absolutely love meeting readers and consider it an honor, so whomever asks me to come and speak, I’ll try to make that happen!

This is a considerable challenge sometimes to  my personal energy levels, and I miss important events back in Boston, where I live:  weddings, births, milestone birthdays.   That’s hard.   I feel bad about that.   And I spend at least four hours a day in correspondence and with social media, so I have to protect and ration my time wisely.   Really, though, when I’m promoting, I promote full-time, and when I’m working on a book, I’m in the Writer’s Protection Program, leaving the house only to get more coffee and walk my black Lab, Woodrow.   My life is kind of like crop rotation, with distinct times for both activities.

4.   Lessons I’ve learned…  What do you wish you had known before writing your first novel and/or the second?

I wish I’d known that frustration is part of the process — when you’re asking the questions and the answers just won’t come, until they do.   Getting frustrated about my own frustration instead of just saying, “I did the best I could do today, I’ll try again tomorrow, let’s go have a beer!” only compounds the issue.   The creative process always has its ebb and flow.   (Ask me how I feel about that in a couple of months, when I’m starting to circle Book 3!)

5.   Support from your fellow writers…  Is this important to you?   It seems from the outside that more and more women authors are discovering and supporting each other, which is quite positive.   But is there a point at which you run up against the need to be competitors?

I’m thrilled that Facebook and Twitter are providing new channels for writers to find and support each other.   And I really do see that happening!   There’s nothing to be lost and everything to be gained, I feel, from getting to know each other and our work, sharing that and broadcasting to the world when you really love a book and its writer.

When I have met the writers I’ve connected with online, it’s as though we’ve known each other for years.   It’s a joy for me to have this venue to support them.

I never feel the need to be competitive with other writers.   There’s no point to it.   For one thing, nobody can write exactly the way you do, so really, there’s no way to compete.   And there’s enough of the pie to go around.   It’s not as though there’s a quota of books published per year, and if you publish one, somebody else can’t.   People will always be hungry for what we give them:  good stories, well told.

Thank you, Jenna!

Joseph Arellano

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