Title: The Eskimo Slugger
Author: Brad Boney
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Pages/Word Count: 230 Pages
Rating: 5 Stars
Blurb: It’s the summer of 1983, and Trent Days is Major League Baseball’s rookie sensation. Born in Alaska to an Inupiat mother, the press have dubbed him the Eskimo Slugger, but a midseason collision at home plate temporarily halts his meteoric rise to the top.
Sent back to Austin to recuperate, Trent visits his favorite record store, Inner Sanctum, where he meets amiable law student Brendan Baxter. A skip in the vinyl of New Order’s “Blue Monday” drives Trent back to Brendan, and their romance takes them into uncharted territory.
As Trent’s feelings move from casual to serious, he’s faced with an impossible dilemma. Does he abandon any hope of a future with Brendan and return to the shadows and secrets of professional sports? Or does he embrace the possibility of real love and leave baseball behind him forever? As he struggles with his decision, Trent embarks on a journey of self-discovery—to figure out who he really is and what matters most.
Review:When I discovered Brad Boney’s work with The Return, I didn’t think he’d be able to get any better in my eyes. Up until now, he hasn’t, but with The Eskimo Slugger he has come very close. This book defies description. There is no one sub-genre of gay fiction to which it belongs. It reads like a contemporary romance, but it is actually historical, set in 1983. It seems like it would be a sports-themed romance, and it is that to a certain degree, but only marginally after the first few chapters.
What isn’t hinted at in the blurb, or anything else I have read about the book, are the spiritual themes woven throughout every part of the story. When Trent, currently well-positioned to be the Major League Baseball Rookie of the Year, is injured in the middle of the season, he returns to his home in a suburb of Austin, Texas. He is there to rest and heal until he can return to the game, likely a few weeks. No one, and I mean no one, knows that Trent is gay. Keep in mind that it is 1983, and he is a professional athlete.
His mother is a Native Alaskan, and his father a Texan who went to Alaska for college and never looked back. Trent grew up in Alaska, until he discovered baseball at fourteen years old while visiting family in Texas, and moved to live with family friends in Austin. That’s where the nickname “The Eskimo Slugger” comes from. The family he stayed with has a son his age who is a pitcher, so it was only natural that Trent become a catcher. Even Keiran, Trent’s best friend and sorta brother doesn’t know he’s gay. They were teammates in high school, college and now both play for the Houston Astros in their rookie season.
While recuperating, Trent goes to his favorite record store from his college days and meets Brendan, a law student who works in the record store. The references to the music of the era took me back and had me singing. Circumstances lead to the two having dinner together at Les Amis, the café next to the record store. The café is owned by Quincy, an aging hippie who has turned the place into a combination Central Perk/Cheers/small town diner. It’s really a great place, and I wish it were real.
Brendan is also gay and also in the closet, though he has slightly more experience than Trent. The two spend time together over the next week or so and become involved, eventually falling in love. But it is 1983 and Trent is a MLB player. He can’t be gay and play baseball. When his best friend shows up one morning unannounced, his reaction isn’t what Trent expected.
His ribs and concussion are healing, and it will soon be time for him to go back to Houston. It is time for Trent and Brendan to make some hard decisions. They are helped along the way by Brendan’s one high school sexual encounter and his now boyfriend, who live in NYC and are openly gay. Also brought in on their secret, on purpose, by mistake, or by the universe, are Brendan’s landlord and Quincy. Trent wonders if he really loves baseball as much as he thought. Is he ready to be the gay Jackie Robinson? Can he play baseball and be openly involved with Brendan?
The spiritual element Mr. Boney weaves throughout the story like a very fine gold thread is beautiful. We learn what Trent’s Inupiat beliefs are and how they contrast and compare to Brendan’s beliefs about the human soul and “What Comes Next”, as well as Quincy’s new age/hippie feelings on the matter. This is just one of the in depth, intelligent discussions they have while in Les Amis. These lively debates and the supporting characters are what make The Eskimo Slugger stand out as such an excellent book. Every character, no matter how small their role seems, turns out to play an integral part in Trent and Brendan’s future. From the cook at the café to Brendan’s landlord’s wife to Trent’s (hilarious) grandmother, they are all as important to the overall story as Trent and Brendan are.
I know this is kind of vague. It has to be. In order to avoid spoilers, there’s not much I can say. And I don’t want to spoil it. I want all of you to read it and love it the same way I did. I believed Quincy’s spiel about auras and colors and sparks. I believed Trent’s Inupiat “we are all one spirit and together we are the higher power” spiritual beliefs. Mr. Boney has written an emotional, intellectually stimulating, thought provoking book once again. I laughed out loud and I sobbed. The end was a complete surprise, and I loved every word of it. The Eskimo Slugger will make you feel good. Hey look, I made it through the entire review without making a stupid baseball joke…
Play-by-play commentary by Tina.
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