MacK's Reviews > Havana Heat: A Novel

Havana Heat by Darryl Brock
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's review
Jun 28, 2011

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bookshelves: am-lit, contemporary, baseball
Read in June, 2011

At the risk of making a broad, unprovable generalization, I would say that there are two kinds of baseball nerds: one fixates on the numbers, analyzing statistics, records and quantifying good, better and best. The other fixates on the words, the language, the stories and the histories qualifying excellence through anecdotes and legacies. I am very much the second kind of nerd, which is why I love baseball literature of all genres, lengths and reputations.

Darryl Brock is clearly a nerd like me. Brock has a tremendous fondness for baseball's past and relishes the opportunity to show average fans and readers alike the way things used to be before the business overwhelmed the game. Reflecting on the old days of barnstormers, roughnecks and segregated teams, his love of the individual personalities of old school ballplayers shines through. As if to increase the degree of difficulty, his narrator for Havana Heat is Luther "Dummy" Taylor, one of the great deaf and mute players from the early 20th century. Once you adjust your expectations as a reader, Taylor becomes a strong protagonist, and cunningly guides the audience through the complex personalities and relationships of John McGraw's mighty New York Giants.

But while Taylor and his fellow sepia-toned heroes Christy Matthewson, "Turkey" Mike Donlin and Buck Herzog come across in vivid detail, the Cuban setting and other parts of the era are harder to grasp. Brock brings up ample research to paint the picture of life in that time and place, but at a certain point it seems as though Brock avoids adjectives and descriptions in favor of random factoids. That research is impressive, but ultimately leaves a large part of the story seeming bland and disconnected from the plot or characters.

Being a wordy baseball nerd means I love the ways that stories and anecdotes pop off the page and appreciate the people and places that helped make the game what it is today. Brock is clearly a nerd like me, but Havana Heat only conveys the people while leaving the time and place harder to fathom.

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