Thursday, August 09, 2007
Book Review, Timothy Gager
The Cleveland Indian: The Legend of King Saturday by Luke Salisbury (Black Heron Press/The Smith)
“If you are not careful, you can research forever, but nirvana better not arrive until the book is written.”
--Luke Salisbury on writing historical fiction.
The Cleveland Indian: The Legend of King Saturday is a remarkable book of astute detail and elegant prose. The main character King Saturday is based upon, Louis Sockalexis, a Penobscot Indian from Maine, who was one of the greatest college baseball stars of the 1890s. What Salisbury gives us with King Saturday is a remarkable presentation of a full-tilted, hard living character. Saturday’s dream is to one day own a baseball team and he will spare no ethics or morality to do so. An incredible admired athlete, as well as a drinker and ladies man, Saturday starts to throw games and bet against the Indians so that he may earn enough to achieve his goal.
As evil as King Saturday could be, author Luke Salisbury manages to create him as a sympathetic, likeable character. The narrator Henry Harrison (lawyer for the Cleveland Spiders) worships the King and is the only man Saturday trusts. Harrison, naïve in the same way Fitzgerald’s Nick Carraway is, gets a cruel lesson about life as everything he loves including women, baseball, and friends get taken from him in one way or another. Henry loves Saturday, questions him, uncovers information about him, and because of various events also loathes him. In the end Henry stays loyal to him and that is the essence and hook of the story.
As a fan of baseball I appreciated the novel, yet baseball is not the main focus of The Cleveland Indian. The main focus is the relationships between the characters woven within the historical era of the setting. One could know very little about the game of baseball and still get a lot out of this novel. I found it very interesting to be able to look up the old time player’s information and match the facts with the fiction, thus enhancing the background of the tale.
As a writer Luke Salisbury is remarkably efficient with the developing plot, which reads with ease and without labor. His attention to details about the various settings and locations of the novel is refreshing and exciting. The historical facts were informative but not shoved down the reader’s throat thus not interfering with the flow of the book. Teams, fields and players which no longer exist are brought to life.
Salisbury’s development of his characters is strength of the book. Each character is vibrant, real and the motivations of their actions are very real and believable. Writing in a first person point of view this isn’t always easy to achieve yet Salisbury manages to do it. This clarity allows the plot to advance in a very enjoyable way as I found myself charging through the novel to see how it would all unfold.
My only issues with the novel are that occasionally the author allows us background by breaking from the narrative to tell us background information. For example, when telling us about Marty Bergen, the Boston catcher, the narrator tells us he would later chops up his family with an ax. I googled it, and it was true, but impossible to be known by the Henry Harrison. From a writing perspective is this allowed? For me, I found the details fascinating and not intrusive with any major part of the story but for other readers it may be a distraction. The only distraction I found as a reader was that some of the descriptions of King Saturday, especially his hair, were repetitive yet, The Cleveland Indian: The Legend of King Saturday is still a great read and highly recommended.