Verdict: Passion for baseball and a memorable team of characters, including a hero unaware of his greatest strengths, make THE FAT LADY’S LOW, SAD SONG a winner.
Sad? Readers ultimately may feel like this novel sings a happy song. Brian Kaufman’s THE FAT LADY’S LOW, SAD SONG is an entertaining page-turner that is difficult to set aside until the last page. It evokes a sense of place so strong you can smell stadium popcorn and hear the crack of bat against ball.
Kaufman’s novel is a window into life in pro baseball outside the major leagues. It’s central character, 31-year-old slugger Parker Westfall, still hopes to reach the majors. But desperate to play and earn even the slimmest salary, he accepts a last-minute contract with the Fort Collins Miners, an independent professional team in Colorado. As the novel shows, independent leagues are a big step down from minor league farm teams that MLB funds to develop potential players. Independent teams generally are the last stop in a pro baseball career.
Miners General Manager Christopher Randall knows Westfall is a poor fielder and slow runner but excels at home runs. Randall takes advantage of Westfall’s desire to play by making it contingent on performing a difficult, off-the-record job. Westfall must be guardian angel for another new player — 20-year-old Courtney Morgan, who is adept at elusive knuckleball pitching. But the first baseman soon discovers that aside from team rejection of a female player, the mean-spirited team manager Grady O’Connor obstructs success. O’Connor is petty (not supplying soap for showers), controlling (forcing Morgan to throw types of pitches for which she has no talent), and vindictive (demanding sacrifice bunts from Westfall).
Kaufman fields a memorable team of characters, including Shakespeare-quoting second baseman Terry Grimes who is more interested in literature and current events than his batting average. Grimes clicks with Westfall who’d rather read romance novels than troll bars. Westfall balances sarcasm and empathy, humility and high self-esteem. He has a keen eye for team improvement, but is unaware of his own greatest strengths, including an ability to build community. Even readers who are knuckleheads about the difference between a curve ball and a knuckleball pitch may love Kaufman’s story. A bit more information about baseball terminology subtly woven into the text would provide a smoother read, but overall this novel is a winner.
~Alicia Rudnicki for IndieReader