The best thing to happen to Stephen King since he was hit by that van is his son, Joe Hill, becoming a bestselling writer as well. I don’t know if it’s collaboration, or just family competition, but King has been putting out material constantly for a few years now. Blockade Billy is a slim one-off novella, packaged with another short story called Morality. Each story explores how darkness inside can destroy what is good in us.
The headline story is Blockade Billy, named for the unstoppable Catcher on the long gone major league New Jersey Titans baseball team. The third base coach tells the story from his nursing home about the only player, William Blakely, to ever have his record expunged from the annals of the game. Not only that, but the first part of the 1957 season was declared void and erased as if the games has never been played. The setup is intriguing off the bat (heh) and King’s writing is confident. Its clear he enjoyed writing the baseball story, and setting up this fictitious season with the authentic touches as if it happened. I’m not sure the payoff is worth it but the story he tells is enjoyable and suitably creepy. It may help to be a baseball fan to understand the language. If you don’t already get the ins and outs (double heh) of the game already you may want to have a friend on stand-by to explain them to you.
Morality is an odd one and I don’t think it entirely works. Built on an Indecent Proposal structure, Chad and Nora Callahan are offered $200,000 if Nora will commit a minor crime and film it. She is a nurse and cares for an elderly, but rich, minister. He laments that despite being a man of God he has never experienced sin, a major sin, and he chooses Nora as his proxy. After some deliberation the couple agrees to do the deed, and it irrevocably changes their lives.
The premise is fine, but the execution is too rushed. The crime itself is cruel, but not grievous, and the events that follow seem too extreme. It’s difficult to say why the story didn’t work for me without going in to spoilers, but Morality is an exploration into sin begetting sin. That once you open the door a crack, your darkest impulses cannot be held back. In order for the story to work one of the characters would already have to be a mostly awful person even before the offer is made. It’s a short tale, and gripping for the read, but too rushed to be truly affecting.
I’ve said this before but King really has no idea how to write anyone that is not from his generation or older any more. The Callahan’s are in their mid-30’s, but mostly talk like they are in their 60’s. This is starting to just be how it is with King and younger characters but I wish he would get over it. This was a problem in both Cell and Doctor Sleep and it rears its head here again.
I picked a small hardcover of this collection up at Barnes & Nobles for less than $5.00. That’s a pretty good price. I give the collection a 3.5 overall. Blockade Billy gets a 4 star, Morality gets 2.5.