BOOK REVIEW: Blockade Billy

by | Jun 9, 2010 | POLITICS

I’m always excited when a new Stephen King title hits the shelves, and while I thought he was losing power prior to resurrecting his career when he finally finished the Dark Tower series, his most recent works have been extremely rewarding. Duma Key and Under the Dome represent King at his best, and though I knew Blockade Billy wasn’t going to be nearly as substantial as either of those triumphs when I saw how small it was, I was still looking forward to the experience. The book itself is a nifty little throwback to the sports novels young men of another generation devoured, plucky tales which were normally named for the athletes whose feats were recounted in the pages of the tale. Both the cover and the size of the book intrigued me, though at $14.99 the book could hardly be called a bargain.

I’m always excited when a new Stephen King title hits the shelves, and while I thought he was losing power prior to resurrecting his career when he finally finished the Dark Tower series, his most recent works have been extremely rewarding. Duma Key and Under the Dome represent King at his best, and though I knew Blockade Billy wasn’t going to be nearly as substantial as either of those triumphs when I saw how small it was, I was still looking forward to the experience. The book itself is a nifty little throwback to the sports novels young men of another generation devoured, plucky tales which were normally named for the athletes whose feats were recounted in the pages of the tale. Both the cover and the size of the book intrigued me, though at $14.99 the book could hardly be called a bargain.

So what of the story itself? Well, first off, Blockade Billy is much shorter than I thought it would be when I first hefted the 132 page printing. That’s because 50 of those pages are devoted to totally forgettable short story entitled “Morality”, a poorly developed and weak piece that surely ranks among King’s most tepid efforts. There is an interesting question posed in the short story, but it’s not an original question and the conclusion offered here is so lackluster I can’t even bring myself to call it anticlimactic. I’m not sure that there was a climax, but let’s get back to Blockade Billy.

Though short and far less striking than what King is known for, this charming tale does have a few things going for it. The author’s love for baseball shines through, and the descriptions of the way the players play the game and the way they speak and live when they aren’t on the field are insightful and revealing. There is an authenticity in Blockade Billy that makes it easy to believe that William Blakely really played the game, and his tale is certainly an intriguing one.

Billy’s tale is told here by George “Granny” Grantham, the third base coach for King’s fictional New Jersey Titans. Granny’s lively vocabulary and his passion for the game and the details that make it so unique are highly entertaining. Granny’s narration is the book’s greatest strength, and because we come to like Granny’s voice so much, we enjoy listening to him as he tells us Blockade Billy’s grim story.

Billy has a secret, you know, this is a Stephen King story after all, and though the rookie sensation is playing catcher at such a high level that he earns his glamorous nickname in short order, we sense that something is amiss in a hurry. Though brisk, the tone and the pace give the story depth, and the dark mystery at the root of the tale is definitely disturbing. I had a fine time reading Blockade Billy, and I would recommend it to both fans of the author and fans of baseball, but rest assured that you will probably zip through the 81 page story in a single sitting.

Now, while I really enjoyed Blockade Billy, I have to finish this review by saying that it’s hard for me to recommend that you go out and buy a copy. Some books are meant to be gobbled up off the shelves as soon as they’re published, while others should be purchased from a bargain bin six months down the road or checked out at your local library. There simply isn’t enough material here to warrant spending $14.99, particularly in these grim economic times. The title story is engrossing but brief and the bonus story is a real turd. I say borrow it if you must, or wait and see if it winds up in a forthcoming King collection. It is somewhat to distressing to think that a typical collection from this author consists of several stories of similar length, providing at least four times as much reading material for perhaps twice the cost. Therefore, if you want to protect your wallet like Blockade Billy protects home plate, this is one pitch you shouldn’t swing at.

R. Anthony Harris

R. Anthony Harris

I created Richmond, Virginia’s culture publication RVA Magazine and brought the first Richmond Mural Project to town. Designed the first brand for the Richmond’s First Fridays Artwalk and promoted the citywide “RVA” brand before the city adopted it as the official moniker. I threw a bunch of parties. Printed a lot of magazines. Met so many fantastic people in the process. Professional work: www.majormajor.me




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