Historical Novels Review Magazine
Historical Novels Review Book Review: The Fade-away

By Nanette Donohue

At the turn of the 20th century, baseball was phenomenally popular, and any small town that could piece together nine players had its own team. Jansen's fictional Port Newton, California, is no exception. The Port Newton team hasn't done well in years --they're mainly in it for the fun-- but everything changes one foggy evening when Jack "Chief" Dobbs, a Native American pitcher, is fished out of the San Francisco Bay. Once he recovers from his injuries, the players realize that they've found a hidden treasure, and they draft him to play for their team.

In addition to a wicked curveball and his trademark fade-away, Dobbs also brings with him some of the cheats that players of the time relied on to win games, thus changing the Port Newton baseball experience. With increased wins comes increased popularity, but at what price? Soon, the original Port Newton team finds that the game has changed, and there may not be a place for them any longer.

Jansen has done a good job capturing small-town life in The Fade- Away. Though baseball is at the heart of this novel, it serves as a metaphor for the changes taking place in America as the 20th century began. The camaraderie of small-town life was slowly being replaced by urban anonymity, and celebrity culture was starting to take hold. Jansen doesn't romanticize the setting or the era, describing scenes where Native Americans and African Americans are harassed simply for existing, and where prejudices are rampant.

The game of baseball has changed significantly in the last century, going from a wholesome national pastime to a sport where performance-enhancing drugs are sadly the norm, and Jansen's novel presents a miniature version of how victory --rather than having a good time-- became the driving force behind the sport. This entertaining, enjoyable, and fast-paced read will appeal to baseball fans as well as readers who enjoy humorous fiction.

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