Pete Hurley is not the first person to have the idea that building his dream house in the country will bring him some kind of peace and happiness. But he may be the first to arrive in Montana with a World Series ring, a three-legged dog, and a thirst for self-destruction. High and Inside documents, with stark clarity, one man's struggle with the dark side of fame, as well as his internal battles with alcoholism and a crumbling sense of self-worth. A community of people who love him and a generous inheritance aren't enough to counterbalance Pete's apparent determination to sabotage every healthy aspect of his life. It's a downward spiral that won't end until he's forced to confront not only his own ugly past but his unfulfilled future as well. With wit and compassion, sharp humor and startling insight, author Russell Rowland gives us not only a portrait of fame and addiction, but also an indispensable glimpse into the character of the modern West. "Rowland's people are on a search, and he writes them with wit, humility, and a satisfying sense of trajectory." Leif Enger Author of Peace Like a River
You don t have to love baseball to love this story about one (aging) boy of summer who is brought to a bittersweet reckoning with his past. I found myself laughing, cringing, and knuckling down Kim Barnes Author of "In the Kingdom of Men"
an elegant and potent investigation of community and home, of healing and forgiveness this wonderful novel is a grand slam of indelible characters and infectious drama, and a flat-out great read. Alan Heathcock Author of "Volt"
I'm a Montana native, and I returned home in 2007. My first novel, In Open Spaces, made the San Francisco Chronicle's bestseller list. I got my MA in Creative Writing from Boston University in 1991, and have been a MacDowell fellow and a fortune cookie writer. The Watershed Years, the sequel to number one, was published in 2007 and was a finalist for the High Plains Book Award. In 2012, WEST OF 98, an anthology I edited with Lynn Stegner, was released by the University of Texas Press. And in 2012r, my third novel, High and Inside, was released by Bangtail Press and was also named a finalist for the High Plains Book Award. In April 2016, Fifty-Six Counties: A Montana Journey came out. This is my first non-fiction effort, about my travels to every county in Montana and what I learned from this journey.
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)
(Originally written for the Billings Gazette, and reprinted here with their kind permission.)
It's become almost a cliche by now, the rich and famous who build upper-class rural estates in Montana so to "get away from it all," unfortunately instead bringing it all with them to the consternation of locals; so it would make sense that writers would find it interesting to fashion novels out of such a dramatic conceit, like Billings author Russell Rowland has done in his latest, High and Inside, his third book after multiple best-of-the -year picks In Open Spaces and The Watershed Years. And Rowland adds to the drama by making this a redemption story too, not just a famous person moving to Montana but an infamous person fleeing there -- disgraced major-league pitcher and raging alcoholic Pete Hurley, that is, whose drunken errant pitch that ended the career of a saintly Dominican up-and-comer has inspired a national movement towards more safety in baseball, and who on top of everything else also accidentally paralyzed his girlfriend after they both took an unluckily serious tumble while in a blackout fugue. Hurley has come to Bozeman not necessarily for its charms, but merely to get as far away from everyone else as he can, although he's convinced himself that he's come so to accomplish the pipe dream of building an entire house by himself; but that's what gives us one of the first clues as to how damaged he actually is, in that he has an almost comical lack of knowledge about tools or construction, just one of the many elements (including haranguing in-laws, a sexy but tough neighbor, and a three-legged dog) that keeps our anti-hero on his wobbly toes throughout the course of this tragicomedic novel.
And to be sure, we're supposed to have an ambivalent attitude towards our hard-to-love protagonist; a runaway addict still in deep denial, Hurley has the habit of making things even harder on himself by picking drunken fights with the people who could've helped him the most (for example, the city employee in charge of approving and overseeing construction projects, standing in for every local who's ever gotten angry at an encroaching outsider), as well as scaring his young nephews on a regular basis and creeping out females in a whole variety of different ways. And that's of course a big part of this novel's entire point, to show our hero at his worst so that we can follow along as he gets better, a classic bottoming-out story but with a lot more than usual at stake. Rowland handles such a story with a lot of aplomb and maturity, turning in a novel by turns funny and serious that takes its time getting to its point.
But unfortunately, High and Inside has its problems too, in a few cases pretty big ones that pull the book's overall enjoyment level down a couple of notches. Chief among them, for example, is Rowland's habit to trust neither himself nor his audience and turn in many moments too broadly; after all, this is a man who not only caused one of the most horrific injuries in the history of baseball because of his drinking problem (a 100-MPH pitch straight into a man's eye socket), but then just a few months later permanently paralyzed his girlfriend, a bit of an overkill when all is said and done, and there are multiple other examples here of Rowland sometimes going too big, or sometimes too sentimental, or sometimes too melodramatic. Plus, he's chosen some details for his characters and settings that can sometimes approach hackneyed from overuse; and like a lot of authors of more slowly paced stories, Rowland has a habit of sometimes including entire scenes that only exist to spell out little inconsequential niceties ("And then they had dinner, and then they engaged in small talk, and then everyone went home") that ultimately have nothing to do with either the plot or the characters' growth.
All in all, though, High and Inside was an enjoyable read, as long as you keep your expectations reasonable going into it, a solid character study that shows off the Montana culture and landscape in an engaging way. It comes somewhat recommended to a general audience, and more to those who specifically enjoy good stories about addiction and recovery.
I had read a first chapter excerpt of an earlier draft of High and Inside as an Amazon preview and was impatiently waiting for the entire book to come out. I've always loved Russell's work and have had a few students do author studies on him since his previous books dealt with ranching families, and the college I teach at is in a ranching community.
I was excited to see something different from him, and WOW, what a knock-out of a novel. I read the entire book in one day. Pete Hurley, a troubled former Boston Red Sox pitcher chooses to flee the limelight after a series of public scandals involving his drinking and decides to build a house in Bozeman, Montana.
This novel beautifully highlights his journey through addiction, recovery, and finding himself. It's a definite must-read, and I'm sure I'll be recommending it to my fiction writing students in the future.
There are some really fun things going on structurally in the novel that are interesting from a writing perspective, too.
Being a fan of Russell Rowland’s first two skillfully crafted novels, In Open Spaces and The Watershed Years, I was eager to read his latest tale, High and Inside. Russell has a gifted way of vividly portraying the angst of human survival that bring his characters to life and stand on their own inner strength. In his new release, High and Inside, we get an up close and personal experience of witnessing a disaster of a person named Pete Hurly, a disgraced ex-pro ball player. Pete not only shatters his dream life, but the lives and dreams of others. No one is safe in his careless alcoholic wake. He leaves no one untouched by his anger, insecurities and the wounded little boy buried deep inside.
Pete isn’t a very likable guy on the outside and the cast of characters Pete bumps into while rebuilding his life in Bozeman MT make life as hard on him as he does himself. However, in the end, you can’t help but root for an underdog who is determined to right his wrongs and do his best to start over. Watching Pete slowly put the pieces of his life together by making amends with his past puts Pete ahead of others who are not ready to man up to their mistakes. The mesmerizing, ugly details of an alcoholic crying out for forgiveness will break your heart and hope for the best for a screw-up whose best friend is a 3-legged dog named Dave. This isn’t a book about baseball, it’s a story about human growth, the quest for survival and ultimate healing.
I greatly enjoyed HIGH AND INSIDE, on multiple levels. Russ Rowland is an excellent writer and, full disclosure, a high school friend. I loved Russ's previous baseball-themed book, IN OPEN SPACES, and with HIGH AND INSIDE he shows he is no one hit--OK, pun intended!--wonder (and indeed, he has other books).
HIGH AND INSIDE follows the life of downtrodden former big league ball player looking for redemption from multiple short comings and major past conflicts in both his personal and professional life. He seeks that redemption in a move from Boston to Bozeman MT, where he decides to build a house. Russ crafts the story in part using a simple metaphor--a man rebuilding the foundation of his life while building the foundation of his house. But there is much here: wonderfully conceived and constructed characters interacting in a carefully woven story. HIGH AND INSIDE has many plot twists and turns, almost all of which (admittedly save one) left me smiling and thinking, "Damn, that's cool. I did not see that coming but now that makes so much sense. What's next?"
I read the critically acclaimed baseball (sort of) book THE ART OF FIELDING just before I read HIGH AND INSIDE. For whatever it's worth,I can say that I found Rowland's book far more compelling and interesting. I am just hopeful that HIGH AND INSIDE will get its just looks by and rewards from the critics, and in turn readers at large. This is a fine book deserving of a large audience, and to be clear, that audience need in no way be limited to baseball lovers.
Finally, a consideration: HIGH AND INSIDE would,make a great movie. I am hopeful that the protagonist is young enough that for once he won't be played by Kevin Costner (even though I like Costner). But doggone, I hope they site the screenplay in Boise or Bend, not Bozeman--we don't need folks "discovering" Montana again ala A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT!
Five *****. Read HIGH AND INSIDE; I think you'll love it.
Rowland’s debut novel ‘In Open Spaces’ is the kind of book that lingers long after you finish reading. His latest ‘High and Inside’ is quite different in style -- more immediate, less nostalgic – but the same wisdom and compassion for human frailty shines through. You don’t have to be a sports lover to get what it is that pains ex-baseball-player Pete Hurley. His suffering is universal. He’s a man trying to run away from his past – or at least erase it from his mind – one drink at a time. A man in search of redemption, building a new home and life for himself, literally brick by brick. There’s a raw realism to his emotional woes and physical aches, details that smack of authenticity. An entertaining read that’s moving and insightful.
This review is my unbiased opinion. For the record: I’ve never met Russell Rowland in person, though we go back several years to an online writing course I took with him at Gotham Writers’ Workshop.
Difficult as it was for a Yankees fan, I enjoyed this tale of a retired Red Sox pitcher, stumbling through his flight from relentless demons. Believable plot, finely-drawn characters, and a satisfying tie-up of the subplots. I also liked the clever use of news clips as substitute for excess narrative. To the credit of this skilled storyteller, Roland leads his protagonist to the well-lit path, but doesn't plunk the reader into sweet syrup at the conclusion.
Enjoyable read, cover to cover. All that kept this from a 5-star review was a bit too much everyday dialogue. It slowed the pace now and then. Plus - I mean, c'mon - sympathetic treatment of a Red Sox player? How much disbelief can a reader suspend?
This really caught me off guard. Russell Rowland’s High and Inside is story of anger, redemption and forgiveness, told through Pete Hurley, a baseball pitcher whose career ends after he beans a batter in the head with a pitch. The protagonist is an asshole narcissist who pisses everyone off, but there was something about Pete Hurley and the supporting cast that rang true enough to want more, leading to uncovering family skeletons and making amends. There are some style issues that need smoothing but it’s not enough to keep the story from flowing and the characters from being true to life. Play ball.
Although a bit formulaic, Russell Rowland's tale of a washed-up baseball player who finds himself in Montana trying to start his life over is written well, paced well, and succeeds in sucking you into his world. Recommended.
This book has subject matters that I shy away from: Baseball and Substance Abuse Recovery. The latter because of the often maudlin "pity me and look at me now" tone. The sport is simply that as a child I became bored with the game and the team mentality. Mr. Rowland's book, however captivated me from the start, and I became wrapped up in the fate of the former baseball star, now trying to recover his life by building a home in the Montana countryside. And, in the tale of his three legged bitch --- yes a dog, named Dave. As the story unfolds, the twisted fate unravels, vividly--I often felt I was there with him, knew the savage passion of his emotions, soberly and in the swamp of of oblivious intoxication. His pain, his guilt which he wears like a jockstrap, confining him, as desire, and need rage beneath the surface. Fascinating fable, told in straightforward prose. And you will love Dave, and how she got her name, too.
Rough read. Pete has just about everything in his life go wrong because of his addiction. This book sheds light on the differences in life between the Rocky Mountain West and the East coast. It also describes in detail the mental battle that is alcoholism, along with a way out. The author does a terrific job interweaving the history of a baseball player's career and the aftermath of life's mistakes.
This novel explores trauma that has evolved into alcoholism, and the journey toward healing. Pete Hurley is the main character, a depressed alcoholic who has recked havoc in his life; he has alcoholic blackouts, and on the baseball field he hit a ball into a pitchers face; he caused his dog to lose a leg, and a girlfriend to be paralyzed and unable to play her violin. But his trauma evolved early from a mother who died shortly after his birth and living with an alcoholic father who he believed sexually abused his sister. Being a baseball player it is only natural this character thinks in terms of angles and how even a small difference could have changed the result in these different accidents or circumstances.
He brings his three legged dog to Montana, where his sister and her family live, to build a house. He has hopes to start over. But in the west people are not friendly to newcomers and he has to face obstacles after having a run in with a contractor at a local bar. This makes for regulatory hell as he starts to build. He meets his neighbors, two sisters, the one he starts to have feelings for announces her parents were murdered. He finds out they were killed in a car accident from a drunk driver. Some of the best advise is embedded in a quote by this character, Lesley, "The only way to get through some things is to go through them—that's all I'm saying. You can't just pray or work or take a pill to make this stuff go away."
Near the end after a visit back to the east coast, where he talks with his former girlfriend and the pitcher he wounded, he runs into a monk, who has, "decided that things never resolve." By this point he has begun to see his alcoholism as a cause of his many problems and is serious about his recovery, he is also wanting a relationship with Lesley. This is a well written book that gives a feel for the west, (something Russel Rowland does well), the struggle to observe our own addictions, and the healing of trauma.
It is always a bad idea to get soppy and sentimental about baseball. You can do it, of course. Some people live their lives that way. But it’s not productive, and it’s not healthy, and I am saying this as a former Dr. Pepper Junior Texas Ranger. It is perfectly okay to remember your childhood, and sitting in the bleachers, and watching Reggie Jackson and Rod Carew terrorize Rangers pitchers. But when you do that, you have to remember the salient facts, such as the one about the old Arlington Stadium having those uncomfortable sheet-metal benches, and how, during day games in the broiling Texas sun, the outfield seats would transform into the world’s largest open-air pit barbecue. Sometimes the past is just the past.
Wonderful read. The writing pulls you in so well. The feeling of all the homework is done by the author and I could just enjoy the book made this a very enjoyable read. Thought the title implies a baseball book, it is more about the complexity within a man. I learned so much and highly recommend it to men and women. I will be reading all of Russell Rowland's books.
Great sense of place and people....perfectly named protagonist, too: Pete Hurley. Can't you see him toeing the rubber, looking in? But poor Pete is far from perfect aside from his name. His story is one of hubris, self-destruction and redemption, and Rowland keeps us engaged all the way through his precise language, humor and human insight. Highly recommended.