Title: Country Hardball by Steve Weddle
Publisher: Tyrus Books
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Length: 210 pages
Book Rating: B
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley
After more than a decade spent in and out of juvenile detention, halfway houses, and jail, Roy Alison returns to his rural hometown determined to do better, to be better. But what he finds is a working-class community devastated by the economic downturn–a town without anything to hold onto but the past.
Staying with his grandmother, Roy discovers a family history of good intentions and bad choices, of making do without much chance of doing better. Around him, families lose their sons to war, hunting accidents, drugs. And Roy, along with the town, falls into old patterns established generations ago.
A novel-in-stories in the tradition of Bonnie Jo Campbell, Donald Ray Pollock, Denis Johnson, and Alan Heathcock, Country Hardball is a powerfully observed and devastatingly understated portrait of the American working class.
Steve Weddle’s Country Hardball is a compelling novel-in-stories about a small working class town in the South. This unique storytelling technique paints a stark picture about life in Roy Alison’s economically depressed hometown and the devastating aftermath of a lifetime of poor choices by him and his fellow townspeople.
Novel-in-stories is a very unique form of storytelling. It is basically a collection of short stories that are loosely linked or somehow interconnected. In the case of Country Hardball, the stories are connected by the town, its inhabitants and a seemingly unrelated series of crimes. In the beginning, it is a little confusing trying to keep track of the various characters and the different relationships, but as each of the stories unfolds, a clear pattern finally begins to emerge. While I enjoyed the overall collection, I was continually frustrated by the abrupt ending of each story and trying to figure out how each one relates to the other stories. My curiosity was piqued by each individual tale and my frustration stemmed from my desire to know more about the characters, how they ended up at that particular moment in time and what motivated their decisions.
At the center of Country Hardball is Roy Alison and his rather infamous past. Never quite able to escape the notoriety of a tragic accident he caused as a teenager, Roy’s life is a series of one bad decisions after another which results in prison time. With each release from jail, he vows to do better. But of course, as a convicted felon, career choices are limited for Roy, so with his cousin Cleovis by his side, he winds up falling back into criminal behavior time and again.
Roy is an extremely sympathetic character and it is very easy to see how difficult it is for him to break free of his past. Small towns often have long memories and Roy’s is no exception. At every turn, someone is there to bring up the past (both the good and the bad) and you almost have to wonder why he keeps returning-I know I certainly did. Roy’s family has deep in roots in town and with his grandmother still living there, I think basically it boiled down to a certain comfort in feeling connected to a place and the people who reside there.
Country Hardball is an eclectic mix of rather heartbreaking vignettes that Steve Weddle manages to bring to a optimistic ending. I can only hope that he plans to revisit the characters in future novels, because I would love to see their stories explored in greater depth.