(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 12 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)
Bottom of the Ninth
By Wyl Villacres
Whiskey Paper Press
Reviewed by Chris Schahfer
One of those "books you buy at readings because you like the reading and decide to review because it's good and sometimes indie authors deserve attention"-type of books. I say "sometimes" because we've all heard of those indie authors who go off on their critics, sometimes making a whole messy Goodreads business out of it, but this isn't Wyl Villacres' type of thing. Baseball, however, is Wyl Villacres' type of thing. It pops up in every story in this book, and while it's often not the main focus, it's the thematic glue that holds the collection together. Even the book's form is modeled after a baseball game, nine stories to mirror the traditional nine innings.
Of course, the huge amount of baseball in this book invites an obvious question: is there anything here for someone who isn't a baseball fan? I'd say so. You certainly don't need to understand the rules of baseball to get this collection. Villacres uses the occasional bit of jargon, like "suicide squeeze" or "6-3-4 double play," but his main points lie elsewhere. He often uses baseball as a backdrop for broken romance, most memorably on "Dead Ball Era," and if anything, I'd say this book's most significant flaw is it overplays the romance angle, which means it runs the risk of becoming formulaic. Yet Villacres displays skill in even the formulaic stories; check out the line "the whole crowd buzzed, static excitement flashing from the bleachers to the upper deck" (11) as a good example of how to work a metaphor through. He also oversells the point occasionally, like on "Suicide Squeeze."
Yet there's also a lot of very strong fiction in this book. Naturally, I gravitated toward the surreal "Foul Ball," which recounts the fate of a fan who ruined the beleaguered (but doing quite well right now) Chicago Cubs' chance at a World Series by catching a foul that a fielder was trying to run down. "6-4" also works as a more conventional "literary"-type story, using the narrator's father's love of baseball as a backdrop for their struggle with liver cancer. There's also a sort of mystery, "No-Hitter," that's a little Chicago Cubs and a little Blue Velvet. So it gets a little one-note, but Bottom of the Ninth is a good, fun read on the whole.
Out of 10: 7.9.