You don’t have to be a baseball fan to enjoy The Fade-away. It is an engaging story about people and life in small-town California in 1900, a time when baseball was played mostly by regular people. If you are a baseball fan, particularly of its history, there’s a healthy dose of early baseball stuff. But it is not a fairy tale of sports heroism; it’s about people who are, in the author’s words, flawed and incomplete.
It wouldn’t take much detective work to learn that I’m a friend of the author, so I thought I’d get that out of the way. If a friend of yours has ever written and published a novel, you may have struggled through it, and then thought up something polite to say. I knew that would not be the case here, having thoroughly enjoyed George Jansen’s first novel, The Jesse James Scrapbook, and then waited anxiously for his next book. In this second novel, he has further refined his distinctive, multiple-viewpoint, mosaic style of storytelling. I read it nonstop, cover-to-cover, and when I was finished, went back to savor some of my favorite parts.
As an historian, Jansen really does his homework. He thoroughly researches the time and place in which his story is set, but then he doesn’t turn around and beat you over the head with what he’s learned. Rather than getting a history lesson, you comfortably settle into that time and place, and come away with the feeling that you’ve been there.
The Fade-away is LOL funny at times, but mostly poignant. It is sweet, but honest. Its characters are far from heroes, but you might find yourself loving some of them anyway.
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