Comments on Brittle Innings by Michael Bishop

Comments on Brittle Innings by Michael Bishop

Here are some comments that appeared simultaneously in Butterbur’s Woodshed, in the issue devoted to discussion of the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award (Adult Fiction division) preliminary nominees. Brittle Innings didn’t make the final list last year, so its paperback edition made it eligible again in 1995 for the final list, and this time it is a finalist. The range of comments on this books is (typically) all over the map, though we rarely have such extreme comments either way as those from Mary & Grace. All comments used by permission of the authors. –David Lenander

From PIPPIN’S APPLE TREE #18 by David Bratman

Here’s my usual run of stream-of-consciousness thoughts inspired by the names of the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award first-ballot books.

Michael Bishop, Brittle Innings. The most memorable of the three books on the list I’ve actually read in full, which is a pretty sad comment, both about my reading and about the list, because it sure isn’t mythopoeic and even the fantasy elements are tacked on. About 80% of this book is a good mainstream novel about a minor-league baseball team, and it could have and should have been written and sold as such. But it begins with a grotesque and ultimately meaningless event which occurs, so far as I can tell, for the sole purpose of traumatizing the hero, rendering his already stuttering voice totally mute for most of the book. Apparently this is a needless device to make him freakier so that he’ll bond better with his roommate. which brings us to the fantasy element in the book, which is tacked on awkwardly and has nothing to do with the rest of the story, nor is it treated to bring out its mythopoeic aspects. Too bad, because as with all of Bishop it has good characters and is finely written. Baseball is not my hobby, but this went beyond empty rhapsodizing and made it interesting.

From THE VIEW FROM THE STRAND Butterbur’s Woodshed #22 submitted by Ellie Farrell

Brittle innings by Michael Bishop

Bishop can never be accused of writing “formula fantasy”, that’s for sure. His earlier novel, Unicorn Mountain, which won the MFA a few years ago (and which was discussed in an earlier issue of BW), took that overused fantasy symbol and dumped it, quite satisfyingly, off a high Colorado peak onto its pointy little head. This new book is – I’m not making this up – a baseball story spun out of Mary Shelley’s famous Frankenstein yarn. It’s about Danny Boles, a young shortstop who gets his chance to play Class C ball in the Chattahoochee Valley League during World War II, and it’s about Danny’s rather unusual roommate, Henry ‘Jumbo’ Clerval. As he does in Unicorn Mountain, Bishop creates a rich cast of characters, who are both original and real. The author’s command of language and his use of imagery are impressive. Here’s an example:

(Hemophiliac Charlie Snow has just fatally insured himself going after a fly ball.)

“Throw it in,” Snow said from Shangri-La, somewhere out of this atmosphere. “Hold the sucker to three.”
“Just you hush,” Muscles told him. “S too late for that.”
“Yeah,” said Snow sweetly. ‘I know.”
Heaped there, he hemorrhaged. The wound at his ankle bled like gangbusters. Muscles tried to tourniquet it with his shirt, which seeped through crimson-brown and reeked of sweat and redness I never want to smell again. The bats peeled off toward their attics. So’d their shadows, moving us out from under an afghan of shifting dapples into a cruel flat burn of sunlight. (p. 368)

Brittle Innings is a coming-of -age story, a redemption story, a particularly American myth. It contains as much baseball as it does monsters. This is fine with me; I grew up with the game, and once played co-rec softball with “The Intoxicators”, who are still infamous in the annals of Boulder, Colorado’s city league. But, you may well ask, is it mythopoeic? Well, I think so, but I expect to be in the minority. Bishop is one of those authors – like Mark Helprin, and John Crowley, and, recently, Ursula K. Le Guin – who are barely writing in the fantasy genre at all: light on quests and elves and magic rings, but [sometimes … ] rich in the more interior stuff of myth. Appreciation of these particular writers is more personal, and therefore less universal.

Mary Stolzenbach, from ON THE ROAD.

or, Michael Bishop should go screw a walrus

The jacket copy on this one refers to Bishop’s “Mythopoeic Fantasy Award-winning Unicorn Mountain.” Sheesh, the words looked good. (“We’re famous, dudes!”) Then came a homosexual rape at the end of the third chapter, and it goes downhill from there. An excessively crude and vulgar version of tht omnipresent modern-realist male coming-of-age novel, crudely stitched together indeed a la Frankenstein with the story of the revived Monster,which in itself had some potential. The Shelleyan style I thought very well imitated. The prose in general is extremely well-crafted. But to what end? “Like dead mackerel by moonlight, it shines, and stinks.” I’m sory; if this one wins an “in the spirit of the Inklings” award from our society, I will be strongly tempted to write a letter of resignation from the Society. Do we have to nominate nauseating stuff like this to prove we are “with it?” I hope not.


(Brittle Innings is fabulous–give it an award, Brittle Innings is fabulous–give it an award).

It is very good that I have nothing to do with the voting for the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award, because I am sure I would resort to illegal and unethical practices, like ballot stuffing and bribery (Brittle Innings deserves your full, undying support) and the like. When I like a book, I LIKE it! Truly, isn’t it one of the greatest feelings in existence to be reading a new book and realize that you love it, it is speaking to your soul, and you are in the heart of happiness as you absorb powerful words that simultaneously wound and bless you? ***sigh***
What a trip. I only read three of the books on the First Ballot list, but somehow I managed to traverse the heights of ecstasy, the flats of boredom, and the pit of hell. I hardly know where to begin in describing how this happened, but I will try…

In keeping with the seduction theme, I was heavily seduced by the first book I encountered from the List (this seduction ended on a happy note–true love being the result!). My declared major, when I attend classes, is Victorian Literature. I am also a big sports fan and a bred-and-raised Southerner (despite being born in Ohio) So imagine my true delight as I began reading Brittle Innings. I purposefully avoid reading jacket flaps, I pref to approach books with a fertile yet ignorant mind (no bad jokes about this being the usual state of my mind, please, thank you, you kind folks). I liked the first few chapters of the novel on their own merits, but I was completely clueless as to what the novel had to do with anything mythical–until in lumbered the beloved monster, now named in homage of the noble Henry Clerval, and I almost whooped out loud. This book just completely rocked my world, as they say. I was deeply moved by the themes of love, connection, and the curse of human loneliness that flowed through this novel like silken melodies. I was also in awe of the author’s ability to keep Henry in the spirit of Mary Shelley’s original style. Each character had his or her own pain and desperate longings, It is an amazing thing to witness how some connect and how much true love and respect managed to survive such horrible circumstances. How I loved this book. While reading this work, I felt blessed, encouraged, energized. And, as is often the case, the book I love best I find the hardest to discuss. How does one describe beauty?
Then again, how does one describe dullness? The second book I read (full of optimism at the beginning, still high and happy from Brittle Innings) was …