Feb 18, 11
Read in May, 2010 — I own a copy, read count: 2
First of all, yes $25 dollars is a bit steep for a 112 page novella. It's a limited edition, first printing, that came with a baseball card of the title character. (And yes, I realize that by opening the wrapping, I've already decreased the value.) If you didn't pre-order the book from Cemetery Dance, chances are good you'll either pay a lot more than that on the secondary market, or you'll wait for the end of May when Simon & Schuster release the audiobook and a hardcover edition with a "bonus" short story ("Morality," which I reviewed in [info]365shortstories back in mid-2009). Had I realized the S&S version would be out so soon, I'd probably have waited to buy the book -- but I fell for the "this story won't be available anywhere else any time soon!" hype.
I'm glad I did, though, for a number of reasons. First of all, I don't think the mass market hardcover will have that beautiful Glenn Orbik painted cover. Orbik does the covers for the Gabriel Hunt books that I love so much, and for a lot of other pulp and hard-crime books. It's a great cover. The black and white interior illustrations are very good, too, by Alex McVey.
Second of all, the story is excellent. It's one of King's quieter period pieces. It's moody, it's colloquial. Reading it, I had a prickling sense up the back of my neck -- the kind of feeling you get when you know something isn't right but you can't tell exactly what, or when you know something bad is going to happen and you're powerless to stop it. When the narrator starts out by saying, "Sure, I'll tell you about Billy Blakely. Awful story, of course, but those are the ones that last the longest," you know someone or something is not going to survive the story intact. And in novella form, you know there won't be a lot of tangents or details to distract you from that growing sense of dread. It should come as no surprise that King builds that sense slowly and methodically throughout the story and even allows the narrator to comment on it as his story nears its end.
I'm what you call a hereditary baseball fan. My parents grew up virtually in the shadow of Shea Stadium, so I'm a Mets fan as much by family tradition as anything. I have no idea if there really was a third NYC area baseball team in the 1950s called the New Jersey Titans or if they are fully a product of Mr. King's imagination. And while I watch baseball, I don't know the finesse of the game. In the hands of some writers who are also baseball fans, I could have been lost in the game-specific terminology. In King's hands, I could gather from context what I didn't already know outright and the details of the game never pulled me out of the story itself. And that helped me maintain that feeling of suspense and dread.
The story of William "Blockade Billy" Blakely, one of the best players the game has ever seen but who officially never played the game, is prime King. Definitely worth seeking out either in this limited form or when the other editions get released.