Drive Me Crazy

Squeeze Play

Curveball by Kate Angell
(Jove, $6.99, R) ISBN 978-0-505-52707-3
It is difficult to give a concise précis of Curveball, as the book has three major romances – six main characters – and covers a Major League Baseball season. How do you do all that in a scant 292 pages, especially if these are pages with generous margins and without a squint-inducing typeface? Not at all well, as it turns out. Not at all well.

Curveball is the second in a series about the Richmond Rogues, a National League MLB team. The “Bat Pack,” the team’s three power hitters, are the focus here – Cody “Psycho” McMillan, Jesse “Romeo” Bellisaro, and Chase “Chaser” Tallan. The story commences with an all-Rogues brawl on Media Day. Psycho charges the mound after a couple of brushback pitches, thrown by his own teammate, go bad and connect solidly. The other two Bat Packers jump into the intra-team melee and all three are suspended for 13 games. This gives them something to stew about, but really impacts only Romeo’s story line. During the brawl, he bowled over sports columnist Emerson Kent, so he decides to buy her a new outfit and make nice to smooth things over.

“Lothario” or “Libertine” would be more accurate than “Romeo” for this pretty-boy third baseman, who is stymied by the reporter’s seeming indifference to him. Right fielder Psycho’s nickname seems more apt; he’s a bad-boy “nudist” living in a gutted historical mansion that he’s furnished with lawn furniture and a sleeping bag. The Daughters of Virginia are on his case to restore the home, so he hires Keely Douglas on the spot as his designer, although he knows she is not the experienced designer she is pretending to be.

Finally, catcher Chaser has the most normal of the three tags, and he is the closest to actually being normal. He’s a hometown boy, still living in his childhood home after his parents retired to Florida. His next-door neighbor owned concession stands at the ballpark, and Chaser’s life-long best friend returned to run those stands after her father’s death. Jen Reid had been in New York, pursuing a ballet career, but seems to have no regrets about leaving that behind to return to the family business and her own childhood home.

All three stories barrel along together, a troika of clichés and cardboard characters and bad dialog and blots of inexplicable detail paired with inexplicable omissions of important data. It might take almost as many pages to detail what is wrong with the book as the book itself has. A couple of highlights (lowlights?):

The dialog is painful. We’re talking actual howlers – if this were a movie, whole chunks of dialog would be lost, unheard under the audience guffaws. It is stilted and oddly formal; this is noticeable primarily in expressions that most speakers of modern English would either add something to or subtract something from. “You’ve no experience in…” would be “You’ve got no experience in…” or “You haven’t got any experience in…” and “I’ll have a National Bohemian beer” would be “A National, please” or even “Give me a Natty Boh.” Just try not to laugh out loud at this exchange between a ball player and the woman he’s trying to play: “Your eyes are bright and your body’s flushed and languid. You’ve the look of a satisfied woman.” “Exercise pleases me.” “I could please you.” Languid? Who says that out loud? Is the greater sin here the stilted-ness or the simple cheesiness? The howlers aren’t limited to the dialog, either: “…the curl of his lip as sensual as it was dangerous,” or, “Her palm had gone as damp as her panties.”

In addition to dialog that is just plain bad, there is plenty of dialog that makes the characters – mostly the men – vastly unlikable. Combine this with their revealed thoughts and their actions and it is abundantly evident that these men are more aptly called boys: these players are merely “playas.” At a first meeting, one cops a feel under the guise of dusting a woman off and checking her for injuries. We have bets with sexual payoffs. We have a playa positioning himself behind a woman who is bent over and backing up, so she will bump up against his towel-clad body and he can say, “In this position, you can call me Psycho.”

We have this charming and professional dialog: (She) “Press is one floor down.” (He) “I like you beneath me.” Comparing himself to his bobble-head representation, one actually says, “I pack more lumber than that little piece of wood.” Wink wink nudge nudge. This cries out for a Beavis & Butthead laugh track (“Heh, heh heh, he said ‘wood.’ Heh heh.”) This supposed to be, what, Roguish? Daring? It is beneath juvenile. And, most amazingly, the women never display what would be the natural response to this – eye rolling at a monumental level. No: instead, their nipples get hard. They do that a lot, these nipples. In just about every encounter, in fact. Just to complete this charming picture? These Boys of Summer have matching tattoos. Groin tattoos. Well, they don’t say the same thing, but they’re located in same spot. Really, my eyes about rolled up off my face.

Aside from asinine dialog and unlikable man/boys, there is also distracting confusion about the timeline. The story begins before Opening Day, the suspension is for 13 games, but as soon as the boys get back in the game, it’s Memorial Day. All this should have happened by mid-April. Also, during the suspension, it’s hot enough in Atlanta to cause heatstroke. Even in Atlanta, April is April. Then, suddenly, June July August are dispensed with in one paragraph. Then it’s World Series time, with no indication that time has passed.

Finally, the author seems unclear about facts that are fundamental to her storyline: are Psycho/Keely restoring a Colonial era home or a Confederate hero’s home? One would not go to Colonial Williamsburg to capture the essence of a Confederate Colonel. And a portrait of said Colonel by Winslow Homer (a landscape artist, not a portrait artist) would probably be in the $10 – $20 million range, so likely outside the budget of a ball player decorating his home, and not likely to be found in an art gallery in Colonial Williamsburg.

It all has little to redeem it. There are nine positions on a baseball team; Curveball and series debut Squeeze Play collectively cover five or six of them. There are three or four more players with annoying and improbably manly names on the Rogues roster. Could an injunction by MLB keep the author from attempting another baseball themed book?

--Laura Scott

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