Like a lot of kids who have a strat-o-matic game hidden under the bed, Roy McGuire likes to analyze things with statistics. They offer a tidy way to explain away some of life’s little anomalies. Take the case of Walt Dropo, who had twelve hits in twelve plate appearances in 1952. That’s a major league record. You never, ever expect a batter to have twelve hits in twelve consecutive plate appearances. But as Roy explains it,
The odds of that are like one in two million, but there’s been way more than two millions tries, if you think about all the baseball players and all the games they ever played in, so it had to happen eventually. Dropo was just the guy who did it. (pg. 7)
So while it may surprise everyone else, it’s no surprise to Roy that it has rained in Moundville every single day for the last twenty-two years. It’s just like Walt Dropo. With all the cities in the world, and all the rainy days in history, someday there was bound to be a place where it rained every day for twenty-two straight years. It just so happens that Moundville is that place. It’s statistics.
Of course, very few things in life can really be explained away so easily. And like in so many great books about baseball, a hint of magic lingers around the baseball game between Moundville and rival Sinister Bend that was rained out on the Fourth of July twenty-two years ago. When the rain suddenly stops, twenty-two years later to the day, a reply of that legendary baseball game becomes inevitable.
Arriving home from baseball camp, Roy is surprised to find a strange boy in his home. His name is Sturgis, and it turns out that he is Roy’s new foster brother. And while they develop a bond as foster brothers, they are also forging a different bond – that of a pitcher and a catcher. The two boys have a complicated relationship, that can swing quickly from companionship to antagonism – which is exactly what you might expect when two young teenage boys are suddenly thrown into a house together. But things are complicated further as the boys untangle their histories, which are more intertwined than it first appears.
The trio of men who live in the McGuire household are a joy to read about. Roy’s dad is a treat from his kitchen adventures – spam manicotti one night, green bean and water chestnut chili the next – to his can-do attitude. He’s the kind of guy who starts a water-redistribution business when the rains start, and switches right over to landscaping when they stop again. He is also a very sweet father, and you can see his influence in Roy’s steady leadership and dry sense of humor. Sturgis is tougher to sum up. He probably does it best himself, when the rain finally stops. Roy urges Sturgis to join him outside in the sunshine:
‘Didn’t you say yourself that it would probably start up again? What if it’s the only nice day for the next twenty-two years?’
‘There’s a short story like that by Ray Bradbury,’ he says. ‘It takes place on a planet where the sun only comes out for a few hours every seven years. One kid spends the whole day stuffed in a closet.’
‘And you want to be that kid?’
‘Yeah. I always identified with that kid.’ (pg. 63)
Sturgis has had a tough life, and fitting in is not something that comes easily to him. But while he is certainly moody and sometimes aggressive, he is also hard-working, thoughtful, and extremely talented. While the plot of the book is built on some wonderful magic, the characters feel very real.
Initially when I found out that the nasty rival team was from a traditionally Sioux town, and that the town had the very big-bad-guys name of “Sinister Bend,” I was worried about the portrayal of Native American characters in the book. But I’m pleased to say that those worries were unfounded – players on both sides of the rivalry were complex both in their character and in their relationships with each other. No character is without his or her flaws – even Roy’s incredibly kind and optimistic dad makes his mistakes – but even the most supremely flawed characters in this book are sympathetically human. And the relationship between the citizens of Moundville and Sinister Bend are woven together in much more complicated ways than Roy, or the reader, realizes.
Kurtis Scaletta’s blog.
Mudville on the web.