Tag Archives: Younger Than Yesterday

Time Between

Stiltsville by Susanna Daniel (Harper; $24.99; 320 pages)

“It was so easy, I understood now, to take a wrong turn…”

“All the days have turned to years…”   Chris Hillman (“Time Between,” The Byrds)

This is a novel that finishes well.   This being said, the first half of the novel is a muddy bog.   I often felt as if I was reading the diary of an obsessive person who notices every detail but has no idea as to what meaning to attach to the aggregation.   Here is a sampling:

Paul stopped walking and I almost bumped into him.   I could see the pink of his skin through the translucent white of his T-shirt, the short hairs on the back of his neck.   “Look,” he said, pointing at the water.   By his foot, a blue crab skittered across the sand, then slipped underneath a rock.   …He offered me his hand and I took it, but only until I’d stepped over a wide stretch of coral.   We walked for an hour.   Paul spoke only to point out a creature or plant, and I spoke only to acknowledge him.   The flats surrounded our stilt home on three sides, and I’d never before walked to their far edges.

This is not quite scintillating reading, and there are 150 or so pages like this before the plotline begins to come together.   This is the story of a Miami couple and the events that happen to them and their daughter between the years of 1969 and 1993.   It seems to take forever to get to the 90s.

The future married couple at the center of this tale initially meet as young college students playing in a community of homes built on pilings in the waters of Biscayne Bay, Florida.   The collection of homes is known as Stiltsville.   It’s a community that will not last, one of the many things revealed to the reader before he/she actually needs to know it.   Susanna Daniel has the frustrating habit of setting a scene, the events involving the main characters, in current time before skipping forward to tell you what will happen later.   For example, her female protagonist’s first impressions of Miami are that, “…the city (Miami) seemed large to me…  though it would double in breadth and height and population during the time I lived there.”

This needless plot device is used far too many times.   In one odd instance, the lead character is telling us about today before she jumps to “nearly a year later.”   Contra, another time we suddenly shift from today to the events of the preceding day.   Later on, we’re reading about what’s happening to the family one evening before we’re abruptly shifted back to the supposedly related events that occurred eight months earlier.   All of this is far too clever to be interesting.

There’s also the problem of stilted language in Stiltsville.   Early on our female lead tells us that, “…after meeting Dennis, I saw in my own future bright, unknowable, possibilities.   I’m a bit ashamed to have been a person without much agency in life…”   Agency?   What reader knows a person who would use that word today…  and in Miami?   Her future husband Dennis, by the way, works for a successful law firm in Miami but seems to know little about law.   In one scene, he worries that he’ll be arrested by the Coast Guard (and quite possibly disbarred) for buying a boat from a person who may not have had clear title to it.   Any first year law student would tell him not to worry, but then this is fiction.

Stiltsville also includes some paths that lead nowhere.   At one point Daniel includes a thinly disguised take-off on the Rodney King case, except that it’s set in Miami rather than Los Angeles.   The reader is meant to get somewhat worked up about riots and the prospect of better communities being invaded before this side-story disappears.   It has nothing to do with the main story, so why was it included?

In the latter part of the novel, Daniel does create some quotable statements such as, “The cement of a marriage never dries.”   She also displays her cleverness in dropping a near tragedy into our laps before sidestepping it.   And, finally, there’s the point at which someone is affected by a devastating illness.   If Daniel had begun at this point she might have crafted a tight, compelling and fascinating debut.   Instead, Stiltsville exposes us to a writer of some potential who failed to put much of it down on the written page this time around.

This review was written by Joseph Arellano.   A review copy was received from the publisher.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Man on Spikes

Spring training has begun, which also means that the corresponding flooding is about to occur:  flooding of the market with baseball books, that is.   Though greats like Roger Angell (The Summer Game), Roger Kahn (The Boys of Summer), and Thomas Boswell (Why Time Begins on Opening Day) have chronicled the hold that baseball has on the American psyche with some of the finest writing this country has ever seen, it is not uncommon for critics to dismiss most baseball writing as something less than literature – classics such as Marc Harris’ Bang the Drum Slowly or W.P. Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe, notwithstanding.

If a younger generation of readers is unfamiliar with the names mentioned above, they are probably even less familiar with a man by the name of Eliot Asinof, who penned the book Man on Spikes.   In this book, Asinof, who is most noted for Eight Men Out, an account of the infamous Black Sox scandal in the 1919 World Series, tells the story of Mike Kutner through the eyes of the people he encounters on his journey through the minor leagues – a journey interrupted by World War II.

Set in the 1930s, Mike’s love of the game is met with resentment from his coalminer father, who would rather see Mike contribute to the family income than play baseball.   Now that Babe Ruth has burst on the scene, Mike’s street-smarts, fielding prowess, and knowledge of the game are underappreciated, and the scout who signs Mike faces ridicule.   Along the way, the reader encounters – among myriad other characters – a ruthless minor league manager and a black player trying to crack the color barrier.

First published in 1955, Man on Spikes had been out of print until it was finally reissued in 1998.   The new edition features a forward by Marvin Miller, the former Executive Director of the Major League Player’s Association, and a preface by Asinof, who reveals that Mike’s story is based on that of his old childhood friend.

When the urge hits this spring, instead of picking up the latest picture book of minor league ballparks or some insightful account of what was going through your favorite team’s manager’s mind in the seventh inning of a game from last season’s pennant race, go back in time and acquaint yourself with the story of Mike Kutner.   No baseball fan could possibly regret it.

This review was written by Dave Moyer, author of the novel Life and Life Only.   Reprinted courtesy of the New York Journal of Books and Mr. Moyer..  

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized