15 April 2014

Reviewing the Devil Snake's Curve

Josh Ostergaard's The Devil's Snake Curve is constructed of short vignettes ranging from svelte paragraphs to short essays of a couple pages in length with sources in case anyone wishes to delve deeper.  This work is a dark commemoration of America's pastime.  One that tries to tie in the author's own concepts of personal disappointment or failure with America's through the shared fascination with baseball.  The book connects many of those vignettes to show interconnectedness on unimagined levels.  For instance, three separate vignettes connect construction company and Yankees owner Del Webb as he constructs internment camps for Japanese (many have been part of diplomat baseball groups) to Webb's 1955 New York Yankee tour of Japan (including a passage on the atomic bombs) to the closing of Yankee stadium and it being attended by Babe Ruth's grand daughter who now resides in an Arizona retirement community built by Webb's company on the design he perfected from the internment camps.

Ostergaard haphazardly follows these threads of this pastime with the quilt of America.  At no time are you fully aware of where he is or what he is going to do other than a loose adherence to a logical chronology.  To those who are unfamiliar with the history of this country or how baseball has sat front and a little to the right of center, this is a fascinating book.  To others, it may be frustrating to resolve that baseball has always been part of the muck as most things are to some degree.  As you can imagine, these short wanderings can be wonderful challenges to your perspective, but partaking in too many can leave you with a literary hangover.  My suggestion would be to read a few and let those few stories linger for the rest of the day.

To some who frequent this site, it may be irritating that so little of this work considers the history of the Baltimore Orioles (or maybe we should be thankful).  The only inclusion of our storied franchise is a connection to 9/11 that Ostergaard includes in a very brief paragraph titled "Intentional Walk".  It mentions that a few days before 9/11, the extended Bin Laden family chartered a private plane and left America.  The previous group who chartered the plane was the Baltimore Orioles who were in the midst of a dreary season perked up by Cal Ripken Jr.'s farewell tour.  There is no commentary attached to that occurrence.  There is no artistic embellishment imagining any association between the two other than both groups chartered the same plane.  At times, he playfully tugs at the American Weave and toyingly suggests unlikely connections, but nothing here.

The Devil's Snake Curve reads, to me, like a more sophisticated version of meandering history that my friends and I engaged in back during my undergraduate.  We would try to tie connected events into a greater mechanistic hypothesis of how the world has worked.  One of the more common elements to riff on was religion, which is perhaps something all good Methodist teenagers do when opened up to college outside of your elder's view.  As young minds were trying to sound worldly and cocksure that riff on religion tried to offer a proof that religion is the bane of all existence. 

It is both an easy argument to make as well as one that is wrought with great error.  First off, it is easy because religion has been so intertwined with the existence of our species and likely before we ever were a species distinct from our ancestors.  You name an awful thing happening (i.e., expulsions, massacres, century long wars) and, well, religion is not too far away from it.  However, the ever presence of religion can make many a young mind falsely conclude that religion is the mechanism by which bad things happen.  Basically, societies do bad things because societies do bad things.  The trappings of that society may give the flavor of the unseemliness, but it is not the cause.

Like religion, baseball has been very much involved in the working of America.  Baseball has been on the front lines of the Monroe Doctrine.  Baseball has been taken with our country as we send our soliders and diplomats to foreign lands.  Baseball has been ever present as our own country makes sense of how we treat women and non-whites.  It has benefited from government corruption from the 1860s until now.  It has been pulled into musicals, movies, comics, and Sunday sermons.  With that level of presence in our society, those with a very liberal treatment of mathematics just might be encouraged to suggest that:
Baseball = America
I would not, but maybe you would.  Either way, The Devil's Snake Curve is an interesting foray into that equation.


The Devil's Snake Curve by Josh Ostergaard
Coffee House Press
256 pages

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