Could horrormeister Stephen King and novelist Stewart O'Nan have known, when they took on this venture, how important this past season might be? Sure, the Sox had a great team "on paper," as the saying goes; they looked like an ample match for the smug New York Yankees, especially with the acquisition of pitching ace Curt Schilling. But who could blame Red Sox rooters, with their long history of disappointment, for not brimming with confidence. And when the season was over, there were the Yankees, once again, Division title winners.
But wait. With King involved, there has to be something supernatural going on. And, unbelievable and improbable as it seemed, the Sox, for once, did not falter, enjoying a "back from the grave," three-games-to-none come-from-behind playoff series victory --- never before accomplished in the annals of the game. But professional sports is an industry that asks the eternal question, "What have you done for us lately?" After the series, sports pundits argued if this would suffice, if the "moral victory" of just beating the hated Yankees would make a World Series title anti-climactic. The majority ruled that, no, only a full running of the board could purge "the curse of the Bambino," which had kept the Red Sox title-less since 1918. Babe Ruth, a star pitcher as well as watershed slugger for the Bostons, was sold to the Yankees after the 1919 season, turning their fortunes around and making them the poster team for sports success, while generations of Red Sox fans had gone to their graves, unfulfilled.
O'Nan does the lion's share of the work, writing on an almost-daily basis about the rise and fall of the team throughout the season, reporting on "the thousands natural shocks that flesh is heir to," to borrow from another notable writer. King drops his own opinions here and there. The style has been compared with that of a broadcast team, with O'Nan doing the play-by-play, and King the color commentary. It works quite well. On occasion, they share a dialogue with their readers. (Some readers might have difficulty differentiating between the two writers: King's comments appear in bold type, but after a few pages, the distinction is hard to tell.)
What could have been a celebrity stunt --- compared Faithful to Larry King's saccharine Why I Love Baseball --- turns into a thoughtful and enjoyable presentation (although, at times, they do carry on like a couple of sports radio nerds). One can easily believe King, who claims loyalty to the Sox since 1967, when he compares his love for the game to an addiction: "This book legitimizes my obsession and allows me to indulge in it to an even greater degree."
"I am a baseball junkie, pure and simple," avers the man who wrote The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, an ode to the former Boston reliever.
During spring training, O'Nan --- author of A Prayer for the Dying, Snow Angels and The Speed Queen, among others --- wrote, "...it's too early to wax really lyrical... (God knows there's too much labored lyricism in baseball writing these days...)." Apparently by May, the time for waxing was ripe, as he offered: "Baseball is a lazy game, meant to be played on a long, lazy summer afternoon and into the purple twilight" as he bemoaned the way money has changed the game, making it more a vehicle for television than a pleasure for the fans. How else to explain starting times for post-season games that all but guarantee the contests won't be over before the next day?
It would be hard to find a team whose fans are more manic than the Red Sox. Their followers are used to accepting the best while expecting the worst. After Boston's four game sweep of the Cardinals, sportswriters wondered what the Red Sox rooters would do now that they've lost the empathy that comes with having your heart broken over and over.
Towards the end of Faithful, King writes:
"'Can you believe it?' Joe Castiglione [the long-time Red Sox broadcaster] exults, and eighty-six years of disappointment falls away in the length of time it takes the first-base ump to hoist up his thumb in the out sign.
"This is not a dream.
"We are living real life."
For two men who make their living writing fiction, this heartfelt paean to the team and, indeed, to the entire "Red Sox nation" will let readers keep the warm feeling throughout the winter and for years to come.
Reviewed by Ron Kaplan (firstname.lastname@example.org) on January 21, 2011