Sunday, June 23, 2024

Painting the Game, by Patricia MacLachlan

Lucy has watched her father, a minor league pitcher with dreams of the Majors, practicing every day and she tries to copy him in her own pitching at the games she plays with the neighbors.  In her mother's words, a pitcher "paints the game" and Lucy dreams of doing that herself.  But pitching itself terrifies her and, while she loves doing it, she's scared to get on the mound in an actual game.  But she'll have to find the courage if she's going to realize her dream.

Unbeknownst to her father, she's even been practicing her Dad's knuckleball.  A knuckleball, for the uninitiated, is a particular type of throw which causes the ball to twitch and turn in an unpredictable fashion.  Difficult to throw, it is almost impossible to hit.  For Lucy, throwing out the perfect knuckleball would be a the ultimate dream, but she doesn't want to let her father know that she's learning it so she practices in secret.  In the end, she gets a unique and dramatic opportunity to reveal her secret.

A throwback to a much more innocent type of children's book, Patricia MacLachlan's final novel (published posthumously) is brief and spare.  And while it has the rough feel of something she hadn't quite finished (and perhaps never meant to), it a lovely self-contained gem.  MacLachlan's style, while ostensibly prose, has always had the feel of good free-verse poetry.  Her ability to establish themes -- courage, perfection, magic -- and spin them throughout her story through repetition and variation is a rare talent.  Here she brings together the dreams of all of her characters and, in the space of only 134 pages, brings them all to fruition.

This short love letter to baseball and fathers is a fitting swansong for one of the best authors of children's literature.

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