Five stars – beautifully written, imaginative, a delight to read
This book will appeal to three kinds of readers: those who admire good writing, those who love baseball and want to see more of it from the inside, and fans of Neil Gaiman.
Arthur Hittner’s two novels, as well as his multiple non-fiction books, encompass two of his main passions: baseball and art. The first, Artist, Soldier, Lover, Muse, I reviewed in mid-2018. In pre-retirement life he was a corporate lawyer in Boston but now has time to follow his muse — much like Singer, his four-fingered lefty. The shortage of one finger on his pitching hand is a big part of the story.
His non-fiction has covered baseball (Honus Wagner), art (Harold J. Rabinovitz, the model for his first novel), and cross-country travel, which he does frequently between his two bases in Massachusetts and Arizona.
Jake Singer is a lawyer in Cambridge having a drink or three with his buddies when he meets Kate, “A little wisp of a girl in a starched white blouse and a short black skirt,” who arrived to take his order. In one short paragraph he sums up her first day on the job and a page or two later — goaded by his drinking buddies — he’s asked her out. He starts out, as he narrates in one of the alternating first-person chapters, looking like a clerk in a Brooks Brothers store but Kate redirects him toward his more casual side. Along the way she rekindles his interest the promising baseball career that fizzled with the loss of his finger.
They marry, try and fail to conceive, which brings serious strains between them, and Kate dies, victim of a hit-and-run just at the time she’s preparing to leave him. Except that she doesn’t really leave, and it’s her role as the late wife that guides him to a reinvigorated if short baseball career.
This is the part that reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s 2001 opus American Gods. In that classic work the protagonist Shadow is released from prison a few days early because Laura, the wife he’s spent his entire sentence anticipating, is killed in an auto accident. Except that she, like Kate, hangs around, much to Shadow’s benefit.
Hittner is a good writer, so I expected an easy-to-read novel. But I was surprised at the pure skill displayed in the first chapter. Read it and you’ll read the rest.
Four-Finger Singer and His Late Wife, Kate: A Novel of Life, Death & Baseball. Arthur D. Hittner. Apple Ridge Press, Oro Valley, AZ, May 15, 2019. $6.99 Kindle, $16.95 paperback (Amazon Prime). I read an advance PDF and have ordered the Kindle edition.
My review of his first novel is here.