Patrick Robinson is best known for his submarine books, including The Shark Mutiny and HMS Unseen, and I presumed that Slider would be another of these. I was rather surprised to discover it's actually a novel about baseball. Being English, I know almost nothing about
baseball, except that it evolved from our game Rounders and that it's hugely popular in America. I decided to read the book and see if there was enough of a story in the pages to overcome the fact that I'm not a
is yes, with some reservations. It isn't always easy to work out what's going on. For someone who hasn't grown up in a
baseball environment, there are a lot of things about the game that are difficult to get a handle on,
including vast numbers of names of former baseball players which of course meant nothing to me. The cast of characters is necessarily very wide, but there is also continual reference to the
baseball 'greats' of former years - I imagine baseball fans would know these, but the average reader possibly not. It's often hard to keep track of who
is who while following the story. Patrick Robinson's penchant for making political and tub-thumpingly nationalistic comments throughout his writing
is as annoying as ever.
The story follows Jack Faber who is accepted to Seapuit baseball camp for 10 weeks of the summer, along with Tony Garcia, as they hope to attract the scouts for the main teams while they play there. Jack's father has brought him up with his love of the game and is hugely supportive of his son. Tony's mother, Natalie, wants Tony to get a law degree and sees baseball as a dangerous distraction from his studies, one that might cost the family dearly financially. I found myself siding with Tony's mum originally - the whole concept of a baseball scholarship to a university is alien to Brits (our scholarships are only ever academic), and the importance placed on the game by the people around them seems overmuch. However, comparing this with football in the UK, I
can see the similarities and how it could become so all-encompassing.
The novel is in three sections, the first being the initial summer camp at Seapuit, the second section the return to Seapuit (after Jack has lost his pitching abilities), and the third section a pure fantasy on behalf of the author where the Seawolves (the Seapuit team) play against one of the major teams. The second half of the book also
contains another fantasy element where Jack's father becomes suddenly rich and the worries of the first half of the book, when they had no money, are all over. This
feels like cheating, story-wise, as the amount of money Ben Faber receives is so enormous.
There's a thread throughout the novel of Ben and Natalie's romance and a plot element about Jack losing his ability to pitch, but most of the actual story is describing different games that the Seawolves play, often in intricate detail. The dialogue between the
coach and his team, and the young men themselves, often feels stilted and unrealistic, and the characters themselves cardboard cut-outs.
Despite all this, and despite the huge amount of baseball in this book, I did enjoy reading it.
The ending is far too unrealistic and pure wish-fulfillment for the author, but it
is a reasonable read, even for someone who knows nothing about baseball (although who now knows a great deal more!). Whether this book lives up to the hype on its cover
- "You won't read a better novel about baseball. Ever." - is debatable, whether its portrayal of the game is accurate and realistic has been challenged, but it's still a reasonable read.