The first of Harris’ baseball novels, The Southpaw tells the story of a 1950’s star pitcher at the start of his career. An energetic, humorous novel written in a vernacular tone, it delves into themes that span success, coming of age, and survival in a world at once tragic and joyous. Recognized as one of the finest novels ever written on sports.
With The Southpaw, novelist Mark Harris begins the remarkable saga of a gifted baseball pitcher named Henry W. Wiggen, which would unfold in four novels over the course of some 27 years between the publication of The Southpaw (1952) and It Looked Like For Ever (1979). Harris frames The Southpaw in an irresistible way, letting the fictional hero Wiggen “tell” his own story in the vernacular–bad grammar, run-on sentences, the works. In fact, the title page tells the reader that The Southpaw is “by Henry W. Wiggen / Punctuation freely inserted and spelling greatly improved by Mark Harris.”
Henry Wiggen is a beautiful athlete, but despite his talents and his natural grace, the unpretentious small-town boy reaches manhood by the same arduous route followed by most boys, complicated in his case by that very talent and grace, and the expectations they create in everyone. Wiggen is that rarest of fiction heroes, a certifiable good guy, without guile, who wants always to do the right thing. Even for him, the challenges posed by personal and professional needs sometimes seem to be too much, as the stakes in his career steadily rise. The Southpaw follows Wiggen from his early days all the way to the World Series, a winning story of a good man living an extraordinary life.
“By far the best ‘serious’ baseball novel published,” the San Francisco Chronicle wrote of The Southpaw–a critical response that is frequently echoed in discussions of all four of Mark Harris’ novels about Henry Wiggen. The Southpaw defines Wiggen, and Harris wields his vivid, stream of conscious style with wizardly skill. The acid test is whether the experience of The Southpaw encourages the reader to follow Wiggen’s saga in Bang the Drum Slowly. Invariably, it does.
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