Goodreads: The Death of Baseball
Publish date: 19 November 2019
Publisher: Cloud Lodge Books
Genre: Literary Fiction, LGBTQ+
Former Little League champion Kimitake “Clyde” Koba finds strength in the belief that he is the reincarnation of Marilyn Monroe as he struggles to escape the ghost of his brother and his alcoholic father.
Born on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, teen prodigy Raphael Dweck has been told his whole life that he has a special purpose in God’s plan. The only problem is, he can’t shake off his doubts, his urges, or the trail of trouble and ruin that follow in his wake.
A decade later, Raphael and ‘Marilyn’ find each other wandering the plastic-bright streets of Hollywood and set out to make a documentary about the transmigration of souls. But when the roleplaying goes too far, they find themselves past the point of no return in their quest to prove who and what they are to their families, God, the world, and themselves.
Fair warning: this is a LONG review and I’m not sure if I’m presenting my thoughts on this well because I still feel really conflicted and disturbed thinking about this book, so it was a tough one to write. TL;DR despite the writing, I don’t know if I would recommend this book to anyone because of the dark content and how the author portrayed certain characters. While the book started off strong, albeit disturbingly, the ending was not only rushed but became too outlandish and unbelievable. I’m still not sure what message the author was trying to convey, but it certainly wasn’t a happy or hopeful one.
I was immediately attracted to this book because of it’s stunning cover and after reading the synopsis, I was intrigued enough to request the title to read. What I got was vastly different to anything to what I anticipated and after finishing this book one day ago, I’m still at quite a loss as to how to review it. If there’s one thing that’s for sure is that this book really needs to have content warnings for readers at the start because this covers some very dark and emotionally wrought topics that readers may find distasteful (physical, emotional and mental abuse, incest, sexual assault, violence, homophobia/ transphobia).
If you’re looking for a happy book or a book where lessons are learned after trying times, this is not it. There was no happiness or resolution for any character in this book and it was to be honest, fairly depressing. What really has me scratching my head about this book is its purpose — what was the author trying to say? What was the author trying to communicate?
The story was separated into four parts. First we’re introduced to Kimitake Koba, or Clyde or as he believes he is Marilyn Monroe. He’s a young American-Japanese boy who lives with a submissive mother who doesn’t speak English and an alcoholic and physically abusive father. Soon after we’re introduced to Raphael Dweck, or Ralph. He’s smart, a talented artist and is also deeply religious, but ever since moving to America, he has been troubled and develops kleptomaniac tendencies, which leads him to a great deal of trouble. Much of the story focuses on his time in Israel, when he is sent back after undergoing therapy for his kleptomania. The story then comes back to America when Clyde and Ralph officially meet, and the consequences of the actions during their time together.
I have to say that there’s something about Ortega-Medina’s prose that, while fairly straightforward, is quite beautiful. The descriptive writing was not only what kept my attention hooked but it is also what made it so difficult to put it down for sleep and work. I enjoyed the exploration of religion, as well as the rich Jewish culture that the author explored and Jewish traditions that I never knew before. It’s not often that I’ve read a book with a young adult where religion played such a big and defining role in their life, so that to me was also a refreshing take. That said there was more about this book that troubled me.
Both characters and their life stories are incredibly complex. Their youth is filled with harrowing experiences that involve much physical, mental and emotional abuse, which made this a very dark read. One topic that kept coming back in both their lives was incest; both boys developed semi-sexual relationships with their cousins and I did not understand why those relationships were necessary to the story. I understand their need to feel love and acceptance and getting those from their cousins, but there was no need for the relationship to turn sexual–not to mention the fact that it became sexual almost instantaneously.
I didn’t particularly like both Clyde or Ralph, but despite Ralph being an incredibly self-serving asshole, he was actually the one that I felt the most sympathy for. His struggle to understand who he is and what his true purpose was against the expectations of his family and religion was very real. That’s not to say that I really liked his character or the things that he did because he treated everyone in his life like they were disposable and was nothing but selfish, especially in moments when he could’ve been doing good. On the other hand, Clyde was portrayed as manic and it seemed to stem from his belief that he was Marilyn Monroe, and this is where I found how the author depicted Clyde as distasteful.
From the very beginning, you can sense that Clyde does not identify as a ‘he’ but because he believed he was Marilyn Monroe’s spirit, that he was a ‘she’. Yet throughout the latter half of the story, the author continues to identify Clyde as ‘he’, even when Clyde has fully embraced being Marilyn Monroe. This is also the point where the story really devolves for me because it seemed that the author was likening being transgender as being someone with a mental illness and that didn’t sit right with me. As Clyde became more desperate to physically become a woman, the story not only became frenzied, but Clyde’s character unravelled, leading to the tossing aside of their transgender identity for one of a mentally ill young man that took his obsession with a dead celebrity too far.
Another theme that is often repeated is how everything comes back around and although I can see how the author was trying to do that with the ending of the story, I felt that it was not only very rushed, but too outlandish and completely unbelievable. Which brings me back to the question I asked at the start: what was the author trying to say? Because I’m really not sure I understand what the purpose of all the character’s suffering was. It also makes me wonder how ‘The Death of Baseball’ is a fitting title when it only played a very minor role at the start and end of the story. Overall, while the author was able to elicit a wide range of overwhelming emotions from me while reading this, I’m not really sure that I would recommend it to anyone for the reasons stated above.
Thanks to NetGalley and the author for the e-ARC in exchange for an honest review. This book is out 19 November 2019.
Have you read The Death of Baseball?