Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Calico Joe

My friend Brian who posts at waystationone recommended to me Calico Joe by author John Grisham. This past year I read my first two Grisham books, both of the legal thriller genre that he has built his reputation on. This book goes down an entirely different path, namely that of a troubled family, a deeply flawed patriarch, and the summer pastime of baseball, where so many kids find their heroes to root for.

The story actually tells the tale of two families, the Traceys and the Castles, families whose fortunes are initially independent, but then come together in a way that impacts both permanently. The patriarch of the Tracey clan is Warren, a journeyman major league pitcher whose abilities have never matched up to his own self-image, who blames everyone else but himself for his troubles in life. He is in his mid-30s and barely clinging to the end of the rotation for the New York Mets. He is a drunk, a womanizer, and an abuser of anyone who gets in his way or doesn't measure up to his standards, including his wife and his young son Paul. When Paul was a child, his father was larger than life, but soon enough Paul came to see him for who and what he was.

In July of 1973, a rookie player was called up by the Chicago Cubs, an Arkansas product from Calico Rock named Joe Castle. Calico Joe quickly took the country by storm with his bat speed, his power, and his approach to the game. He was a special player who every kid, including Paul, quickly came to idolize. When Warren found out that Joe held a place in his son's heart that he felt should have been his, he made up his mind to show this rookie a thing or two. Warren got his chance in an August game against the Cubs. A fastball to the face and Joe was carted off the field, clinging to life. By the time Joe was released from the hospital, Warren had been released by the Mets. One moment that led to the end of the careers of two men.

As the years and decades went by each man followed his own path but each was still dealing with the effects of that August night. Joe suffering mild paralysis and brain damage, lived with his family back in Calico Rock, hidden from the world. Warren with his fifth wife, a bitter, hateful, jerk. When Paul learns that his estranged father is dying of cancer and has little time left, he develops a plan to bring Joe and Warren together, to give his father one last chance before he dies to seek forgiveness from at least one person whose life he hurt. This story is a gem and shows how hearts can be changed even when it looks like it is far too late and how forgiveness can heal the deepest wounds.