Saturday, January 30, 2010

Not-so-baseball novel review: "The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon"

Stephen King's short novel "The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon" is not really about baseball, but in reality, no good baseball book is really about baseball.

And King's book is not about Tom Gordon, the former Royals star and then a popular journeyman reliever.

"The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon" is about a little girl who gets lost in the woods. But it's not really about that, either.

Think about that concept, though, for a moment. A little girl. Lost. In the woods. Just the thought of it is terrifying, maybe more frightening than any horrific monster Stephen King has ever imagined.

At its heart, "The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon" is about fear.

I'll be honest: I'm not a huge Stephen King fan. I've read "Misery," and I've read a handful of short stories whenever they appear in Esquire or on a Web site I frequent. And I've seen "The Green Mile" and "The Shawshank Redemption," two works of Stephen King's imagination. But I'm not a diehard follower, like so many people are. I picked up "The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon" from the discount rack at Half Price Books because I'm into baseball novels. And I knew this wasn't really a baseball novel. But still, I wanted to give it a try.

And I'm glad I did.

"The Girl" has all the qualities that makes Stephen King's work so great and, I imagine, so tantalizing for his loyal fans. It has an edge of creepiness during certain scenes. Just the tiniest whiff of something not quite right.

In the book, the main character, Trisha, a tried-and-true Red Sox fan with a major crush on then Red Sox closer Tom Gordon, is on a hiking trip with her argumentative mother and brother. While the two of them are fighting, Trisha sneaks off the trail for a second to take a pee. When she's done, she tries to take a shortcut back to her family. But she can't find the trail.

And she begins to wander around in the woods. For days and days.

Her companions on the trip include a Walkman radio, with which she listens to Red Sox games every night on the AM band, and an imaginary image of Tom Gordon, who follows along with her, talks to her and teaches her the art of closing.

While most of the tale centers around Trisha's journey through the woods, occasionally the story flashes over to the search for the little girl. King does this brilliantly, switching between scenes within paragraphs, and even within sentences, without an unwieldy break in the narrative.

Here's my only criticism. I think King got a little too caught up in working in supernatural stuff and sometimes ignores the truly frightening story - the little girl lost in the woods. Sometimes, he can't see the forest for the trees - pardon the pun.

But it's a nice read, and a quick one, too.

It's not about baseball, but it is about baseball fandom to some extent.

And, of course, fear.

--Matt Kelsey

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