The Cactus League

Farrar. Feb. 2020. 288p. ISBN 9780374117948. $27. F
DEBUT This first novel is a beautifully realized meditation on the complex, uncertain nature of daily life. “Nothing is static,” Nemens’s grizzled narrator, a longtime sportswriter, muses at the beginning of the story; “everything changes.” The unlikely subject of his thoughts is spring-training baseball, where the unpredictable ebb and flow from season to season is dramatically visible in the performances of both teams and individual players—life’s vicissitudes made manifest on the field. Set in Scottsdale, AZ, in 2011, the story chronicles the fortunes of star player Jason Goodyear, recent recipient of a Golden Glove Award and American League MVP runner-up. Things have changed significantly since last year, however. Goodyear’s marriage has ended, and his passion for gambling has become a dangerous addiction he can no longer control. Nemens deftly handles the narrative arc of this story, effectively blending various plotlines involving Jason, his agent, his teammates, and his fans and bringing them all to a compelling, heartbreaking conclusion. Nemens’s knowledge of the subtleties of baseball complements her philosophical content in powerful ways.
VERDICT A triumphant debut; enthusiastically recommended for fans of literary fiction and great sports writing.
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