Comments on Brittle Innings, by Michael Bishop
Here are some comments that appeared simultaneously in Butterbur's
Woodshed, in the issue devoted to discussion of the Mythopoeic Fantasy
Award (Adult Fiction division) preliminary nominees. Brittle Innings
didn't make the final list last year, so its paperback edition made it eligible
again in 1995 for the final list, and this time it is a finalist. The range
of comments on this books is (typically) all over the map, though we rarely
have such extreme comments either way as those from Mary & Grace.
All comments used by permission of the authors. --David Lenander
From PIPPIN'S APPLE TREE #18 by David Bratman
Here's my usual run of stream-of-consciousness thoughts inspired by the
names of the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award first-ballot books.
Michael Bishop, Brittle Innings. The most memorable of the three
books on the list I've actually read in full, which is a pretty sad comment,
both about my reading and about the list, because it sure isn't mythopoeic
and even the fantasy elements are tacked on. About 80% of this book is a
good mainstream novel about a minor-league baseball team, and it could have
and should have been written and sold as such. But it begins with a grotesque
and ultimately meaningless event which occurs, so far as I can tell, for
the sole purpose of traumatizing the hero, rendering his already stuttering
voice totally mute for most of the book. Apparently this is a needless device
to make him freakier so that he'll bond better with his roommate. which
brings us to the fantasy element in the book, which is tacked on awkwardly
and has nothing to do with the rest of the story, nor is it treated to bring
out its mythopoeic aspects. Too bad, because as with all of Bishop it has
good characters and is finely written. Baseball is not my hobby, but this
went beyond empty rhapsodizing and made it interesting.
From THE VIEW FROM THE STRAND Butterbur's Woodshed #22 submitted by Ellie
Brittle innings by Michael Bishop
Bishop can never be accused of writing "formula fantasy", that's
for sure. His earlier novel, Unicorn Mountain, which won the MFA
a few years ago (and which was discussed in an earlier issue of BW), took
that overused fantasy symbol and dumped it, quite satisfyingly, off a high
Colorado peak onto its pointy little head. This new book is - I'm not making
this up - a baseball story spun out of Mary Shelley's famous Frankenstein
yarn. It's about Danny Boles, a young shortstop who gets his chance to play
Class C ball in the Chattahoochee Valley League during World War II, and
it's about Danny's rather unusual roommate, Henry 'Jumbo' Clerval. As he
does in Unicorn Mountain, Bishop creates a rich cast of characters,
who are both original and real. The author's command of language and his
use of imagery are impressive. Here's an example:
(Hemophiliac Charlie Snow has just fatally insured himself going after a
"Throw it in," Snow said from Shangri-La, somewhere out of this
atmosphere. "Hold the sucker to three."
"Just you hush," Muscles told him. "S too late for that."
"Yeah," said Snow sweetly. 'I know."
Heaped there, he hemorrhaged. The wound at his ankle bled like gangbusters.
Muscles tried to tourniquet it with his shirt, which seeped through crimson-brown
and reeked of sweat and redness I never want to smell again. The bats peeled
off toward their attics. So'd their shadows, moving us out from under an
afghan of shifting dapples into a cruel flat burn of sunlight. (p. 368)
Brittle Innings is a coming-of -age story, a redemption story, a
particularly American myth. It contains as much baseball as it does monsters.
This is fine with me; I grew up with the game, and once played co-rec softball
with "The Intoxicators", who are still infamous in the annals
of Boulder, Colorado's city league. But, you may well ask, is it mythopoeic?
Well, I think so, but I expect to be in the minority. Bishop is one of those
authors - like Mark Helprin, and John Crowley, and, recently, Ursula K.
Le Guin - who are barely writing in the fantasy genre at all: light on quests
and elves and magic rings, but [sometimes ... ] rich in the more interior
stuff of myth. Appreciation of these particular writers is more personal,
and therefore less universal.
Mary Stolzenbach, from ON THE ROAD.
or, Michael Bishop should go screw a walrus
The jacket copy on this one refers to Bishop's "Mythopoeic Fantasy
Award-winning Unicorn Mountain." Sheesh, the words looked good. ("We're
famous, dudes!") Then came a homosexual rape at the end of the third
chapter, and it goes downhill from there. An excessively crude and vulgar
version of tht omnipresent modern-realist male coming-of-age novel, crudely
stitched together indeed a la Frankenstein with the story of the revived
Monster,which in itself had some potential. The Shelleyan style I thought
very well imitated. The prose in general is extremely well-crafted. But
to what end? "Like dead mackerel by moonlight, it shines, and stinks."
I'm sory; if this one wins an "in the spirit of the Inklings"
award from our society, I will be strongly tempted to write a letter of
resignation from the Society. Do we have to nominate nauseating stuff like
this to prove we are "with it?" I hope not.
From SUBLIMINAL SEDUCTIONS ABOUNDING by Grace Monk
(Brittle Innings is fabulous--give it an award, Brittle Innings
is fabulous--give it an award).
It is very good that I have nothing to do with the voting for the Mythopoeic
Fantasy Award, because I am sure I would resort to illegal and unethical
practices, like ballot stuffing and bribery (Brittle Innings deserves
your full, undying support) and the like. When I like a book, I LIKE it!
Truly, isn't it one of the greatest feelings in existence to be reading
a new book and realize that you love it, it is speaking to your soul, and
you are in the heart of happiness as you absorb powerful words that simultaneously
wound and bless you? ***sigh***
What a trip. I only read three of the books on the First Ballot list, but
somehow I managed to traverse the heights of ecstasy, the flats of boredom,
and the pit of hell. I hardly know where to begin in describing how this
happened, but I will try...
In keeping with the seduction theme, I was heavily seduced by the first
book I encountered from the List (this seduction ended on a happy note--true
love being the result!). My declared major, when I attend classes, is Victorian
Literature. I am also a big sports fan and a bred-and-raised Southerner
(despite being born in Ohio) So imagine my true delight as I began reading
Brittle Innings. I purposefully avoid reading jacket flaps, I pref to approach
books with a fertile yet ignorant mind (no bad jokes about this being the
usual state of my mind, please, thank you, you kind folks). I liked the
first few chapters of the novel on their own merits, but I was completely
clueless as to what the novel had to do with anything mythical--until in
lumbered the beloved monster, now named in homage of the noble Henry Clerval,
and I almost whooped out loud. This book just completely rocked my world,
as they say. I was deeply moved by the themes of love, connection, and the
curse of human loneliness that flowed through this novel like silken melodies.
I was also in awe of the author's ability to keep Henry in the spirit of
Mary Shelley's original style. Each character had his or her own pain and
desperate longings, It is an amazing thing to witness how some connect and
how much true love and respect managed to survive such horrible circumstances.
How I loved this book. While reading this work, I felt blessed, encouraged,
energized. And, as is often the case, the book I love best I find the hardest
to discuss. How does one describe beauty?
Then again, how does one describe dullness? The second book I read (full
of optimism at the beginning, still high and happy from Brittle Innings)
The 1995 MFA/MSA Comments page
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