4 out of 4 stars
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On the surface, The Fat Lady's Low, Sad Song by Brian Kaufman, is a book about a simple independent baseball team in the minor leagues. But, just as ogres are more than they appear, this book is a metaphorical onion (or parfait) with layer after layer being revealed to the reader as the pages are flipped.
The book follows the main character, Parker Westfall, who is definitely in the autumn of his baseball career. Although his hopes are high on a call from the major leagues, he is signed at the last minute by a team that is not only in the minors, but is also an independent team (the club survives financially on attendance at games alone and is not supported by another franchise). Despite his fantastic home run record, a combination of his poor outfield game and his attitude has kept him out of the major leagues. He finds himself on a losing team with a grumpy coach that merely sticks to baseball fundamentals, a manager that cares only about the franchise's money-making possibilities, a gang of misfit players, and even the first ever female looking for a chance to fire her knuckleball all the way to the major leagues. Will Parker find his way up to the major leagues? Will the knuckleball pitcher make her dream come true or will she prove to everyone that she was simply the manager's publicity stunt? Will this mishmash of personalities come together and crawl their way out of last place this season? All this and more are in store for the reader as they follow the Fort Collins Miners throughout their season.
I started this book thinking that it was going to be a relatively simple and uncomplicated read, but boy was I mistaken. Don't get me wrong, it is an easy read with uncomplicated language (you don’t need to read something multiple times to know what the author is saying) but there is definitely more than meets the eye. I love how the author is expertly able to use baseball as a metaphor for life. Although this isn't done overtly, it is plainly clear that this book is about more than just a struggling baseball team. Parker represents all of those who are still fighting to make good on their childhood dreams, despite the clock running down. Another player has to make the call between playing injured and chasing another vocation. Finally, our publicity stunt female pitcher represents gender equality, ongoing prejudices within professional sports, and the fine line these women have to straddle in order "to be one of the guys". All these aspects and more creep slowly into your consciousness as you read about the Miners’ successes and failures. Near the end of the book, there is even a significant world/national event that takes place that adds to the complexity of the Miners’ season and the fate of its players. What I like best about this book is how down to earth it is. This isn't a hero story. All of the characters are realistically flawed; the protagonist isn't a natural and epic leader that rallies the troops to blistering victories. The team simply plays through good and bad times to fight their way to the end of the season.
There really isn't much to dislike about Brian Kaufman's work. I didn't come across any spelling or grammatical errors except for a simple mislabeling of the Roman numeral chapters above 40 (XXXX instead of XL). One downside to this book goes hand in hand with a positive aspect mentioned earlier. I know it may seem contradictory, but I think that it is a part of this book's power. We are used to literary conclusions that leave us happy, satisfied, and content that all conflict has been resolved (apart from several evident exceptions). But with The Fat Lady's Low, Sad Song this is not necessarily the case (I really can't say much more without giving anything away). If you are the type that thrives on the ultimate hero, arriving in the nick of time, vanquishing all evil, marrying the damsel in distress, and riding off into the sunset, the novel’s conclusion may disappoint you.
The more I thought about The Fat Lady's Low, Sad Song, the more I was drawn into the book's use of baseball as a metaphor for life. After finishing It, I began to think more about the title (I hadn't given it much thought at first) and realized that it too can have multiple meanings. The proverbial "Fat Lady" sings to mark the end of something (opera, baseball season, careers, dreams, innocence, novels, etc) and Kaufman's title hits the mark perfectly. Since it grew on me throughout the read and for each of its hidden layers, I fully believe that this book deserves 4 out of 4 stars. Its few flaws are heavily outweighed by its ability to deliver a solid product that is as relevant to baseball fans as well as avid readers of all genres. If you are a baseball aficionado who likes fiction, this is a mandatory read for you; if you are sports fan who also likes to read, you will thoroughly enjoy this one; and if you enjoy literature that outlines the struggle of the underdog and achieving your dream, you should give it a shot. I sincerely think this one has a bit of something for everyone. That being said, if you really do detest baseball or are turned off by the use of foul language in writing, you may want to steer clear of this one.
The Fat Lady's Low, Sad Song
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