What I’m Reading: A Single Happened Thing

Ack, I’m falling behind! Before I rate some more scary movies, I want to briefly review A Single Happened Thing, by Daniel Paisner. This book follows New York City book publicist David Felb, who has a boring, normal, and kind of disappointing life until one evening at a meaningless late-season Phillies game in Philadelphia. The game happens to have the longest single at bat ever recorded–that’s the Single Happened Thing of the title–and somehow that expansion of time, as it were, allows a long-dead player from baseball’s distant past to slip through into our time.

The player is Fred “Sure Shot” Dunlap (a real person, by the way), who had one of the greatest seasons in baseball history for the short-lived Union Association League in 1884, was forgotten not long after, and died penniless in 1900. For some reason he takes a liking to David, or at least thinks David can help him, and after a strange encounter at the baseball game, tracks David down to his hotel the next morning, and then meets him again as David takes the train home to New York.

Dunlap disappears after that, but in David’s gushing to his wife and family about the bizarre encounter, his wife decides he’s delusional and insists he starts seeing a psychiatrist. In fact, Dunlap becomes a wedge in their marriage, as David refuses to back down from the reality of his experience, even as his wife is certain that he could not possibly have met a…what? ghost? Long-dead person resurrected?

However, David’s teenage daughter Iona takes his side after a strange man shows up at her softball practice one day and teaches her an unusual side arm throw that makes her the star pitcher of her school league. Who else could the strange man have been but “Sure Shot” Dunlap?

While the baseball forms a framework for the novel, it’s in the subtle divisions and alliances of a troubled family that Paisner’s novel really resides. It’s really beautifully written and pretty fun to read–maybe more so for a baseball fan, but I think any thinking adult would appreciate the careful descriptions of a slowly fraying marriage and the ups and downs of parent-child relationships in light of that. A Single Happened Thing is highly recommended.

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