Screwball marks David Ferrell’s first faltering steps into the fiction arena. Ferrell, a Pulitzer Prize-winning news writer, has created a book that proclaims loud and clear that his talents lie in sports reporting. However, he also gives us glimpses of literary genius that, if nurtured, could lead to a truly hilarious and well-written novel in the future. Unfortunately, Screwball is not that novel.
Ferrell’s book is set in the illustrious world of professional baseball where the Boston Red Sox (nonfictional team with fictional players) are experiencing a horrendous losing streak. All of this changes when 110-mile-per-hour pitcher Ron Kane joins the team. Kane is the type of player who comes along once in a lifetime, and the Sox management finally let themselves hope that they have a chance at the championship. But Kane has one small problem: he’s a serial killer who likes to decapitate elderly fans and carve their heads up. The Sox management soon become wise to the situation, which puts them in a moral dilemma. Turn Kane in and lose the chance of finally becoming champions, or throw the cops off the scent until the season is over?
Ludicrous as it may sound, the premise of the book is actually one if its strongest points. Ferrell is adept at creating an atmosphere in which winning is everything — even more important than the lives of a few innocent people. He’s also obviously very knowledgeable about professional baseball, and the reader will be able to better follow the story line if they have some working knowledge of the sport as well. Much of the book is devoted to the different games of the season, player contracts and bonuses, and the managerial structure of a professional baseball club. This is great for those who are interested in such things, but may fall flat for those who would rather have an entertaining story.
In Screwball, Ferrell succeeds in creating a valid professional baseball atmosphere, yet fails in creating characters who are interesting, likeable or real. The baseball players are mere caricatures, and the managing staff members do not have enough depth to make the reader care what happens to them. The reader is also led to believe there is a mystery involved when there actually isn’t, and no explanation is given for the horrific actions of the murderous Kane. In fact, Kane, the center of the novel, is the character with the least amount of development, making his actions unbelievable and, ultimately, uninteresting.
Screwball is not all bad, though. Ferrell is obviously a talented writer who occasionally throws out a phrase or bit of dialogue that is laugh-out-loud funny. He also has the beginnings of some very interesting characters. If he were to take these elements to a new level and add a more plausible ending, he would probably have a pretty decent novel. As it is, Screwball falls short in many areas and is recommended only to those die-hard baseball fans who want a little bit of fantasy thrown in with their stats.