My rating: 5 of 5 stars
After reading three lengthy histories and Margaret Atwood’s depressing dystopia, all I wanted was to relax with a baseball book from the pre-DH era when baseball was truly the national pastime, when the sun shined on men and women in hats and bleacher seats were under a dollar.
Summer of Shadows gave me so much more! First, it is a great baseball book about the 1954 Cleveland Indians, the team that set the American League record for wins prior to flaming out in the World Series. Jonathan Knight captures the essence of the team and its journey, giving us enough in-game action without burying us in statistical detail. The author’s gift for making scene and character come alive in tightly-written paragraphs is truly exceptional; the two chapters devoted to the doubleheader conquest of the evil Yankees are baseball writing at its best.
But Mr. Knight does not limit his talents to the ultimately disappointing history of the Indians. That summer also featured the murder of the young wife of a physician by the name of Sam Sheppard, whose story gripped Cleveland as tightly as the pennant race. Knight uses this tragic but compelling tale of “newspaper justice” to draw attention to the elements that drove a once-great city (“The Best Location in the Nation”) into moral and physical decline. The goal is ambitious, the challenge significant, but Mr. Knight pulls it off with aplomb. Never once did I feel that he was stretching too hard to weave these three superficially disparate themes together; instead, his mastery of narrative provides us with a tight, page-turning story that is difficult to put down and consistently stimulates thought and emotion. We enter a time of both innocence and naiveté at the start of 1954 and leave it with a greater understanding of the cultural causes behind Cleveland’s tragic decline, much of which lies in the darker side of human nature.
There are few books I bother to re-read, but Summer of Shadows will definitely make that exclusive list.