Book Review: Blockade Billy By Stephen King

I received this book years ago as part of a promotion—it came with the purchase of another book which I cannot now remember. It’s a novella by Stephen King that also includes another short story called “Mortality.”

The novella is told through a frame structure of an old-timer in a nursing home. He goes by the nickname “Granny” and was once a coach for a now-defunct New Jersey baseball team. The old timer is telling “Mr. King” the story of Blockade Billy, a player who was recruited in a pinch when the team ran out of catchers, but whose presence was later erased from MLB history because of a scandal which I will not reveal, or it will spoil the only purpose of the tale.

I tried several times to read this novel previously. The voice of the old timer is interesting, and I could see the voice making a good narration to use as a voice-over during a film in which we see clips of Blockade Billy and company. But as a written word, I lost interest several times, even as the old man admitted he was rambling and hadn’t spoken this much in years (and was enjoying the chance to talk). There was a lot of baseball talk, and I don’t mind sports talk, but because there was little context, I was not drawn in right away.

The book is slim—the novella is 80 pages of generous spacing and wide margins. It took until about page 40 (halfway through) to hook me—when I saw there was something strange about Blockade Billy. I was trying to imagine what I would have thought if it had been an unknown author and not Stephen King. Part of me felt it wasn’t a weird enough tale—I was expecting even more twists from King. I did enjoy the old man’s voice, but it seemed to draw the novella out when it should have been a short story instead.

The short story that was included after, “Morality,” was more in line with what I expected from Stephen King. It’s the story of a couple on the brink of poverty. The wife is given an indecent proposal (but not like the movie) in exchange for much-needed money, and we get to watch the decision and its implications in the marriage. The darkness of this tale was much more King in my mind.

It wasn’t a bad tale, and I brought it to my kids’ martial arts class so that I would be a captive reader and not succumb to other distractions. That said, I have a huge stack of “to be read” books, and this one is likely not worthy of some of the others.

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