it's nervous time
Faithful
Publication Information

  • co-written with Stewart O'Nan
  • 2004
  • Scribner
  • 384 pages
  • A Nonfiction Critique

    Faithful isn't really a Stephen King book. It says so right there on the cover: by Stewart O'Nan with Stephen King. And O'Nan - who once risked the ire of his co-author with his book Dear Stephen King (later renamed The Speed Queen) - really does dominate this book. He details the 2004 Red Sox season, including the spectacular and unexpected World Series win, with the eye and the pen of a true fan. King pops up every so often (in bold print to distinguish his words from O'Nan's) with further insight or commentary.

    With that in mind, Faithful may not be the most accessible Stephen King book. For those not interested in sports or sports writing, Faithful can be a slog of insider jargon and statistics. Even King's celebrated pieces like the New Yorker narrative essay "Head Down" (later republished in Nightmares & Dreamscapes) can seem distancing to those readers who aren't baseball fanatics.

    However, King's discussions about how baseball made him feel are fantastically enjoyable. When he is focusing on his own reactions rather than the particulars of the game, the emotional resonance one can glean from his best writing shines through the talk of trades and plays. It's fascinating, for once, to witness Stephen King being a fan, rather than the object of fan devotion. Most fun are the interspersed email conversations between King and O'Nan: with their sense of immediacy, jovial nature, and pop-culture references (these guys can't stop riffing on Napoleon Dynamite), it doesn't matter what subject they discuss. Here we see two fans, sitting around, talking; one can't help but feel a little voyeuristic thrill with each glimpse into those conversations.

    Interestingly, when King focuses on baseball in his fiction - notably in Needful Things, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, and the later Blockade Billy - he remains as accessible to non-fans as in his other works. More, his two other forays into book-length non-fiction, Danse Macabre and On Writing, also feel approachable for those not necessarily interested in the recent history of the horror genre, or the mechanics of fiction writing. There seems to be something particular about the nature of King's non-fiction sports writing that seems to alienate those not on his particular wavelength.

    This doesn't seem to be King's fault. In the case of Faithful, Stuart O'Nan - an accomplished fiction writer - is also blameless. If Faithful doesn't work for readers, it is likely due to the fact that this simply isn't the book for them. Non-baseball fans drawn to Faithful by the power of King's name alone may be disappointed in the nature of the book, which may confound and frustrate. Conversely, baseball fanatics who are unfamiliar with either King's or O'Nan's writing will likely find the book compelling, an accessible way in to the larger world of these authors' writing.


    2004 Review

    Hereís the thing: Faithful isnít really a Stephen King book. It says so right there on the cover: by Stewart OíNan with Stephen King. And OíNan Ė he who once risked the ire of his co-author with his book Dear Stephen King (later renamed The Speed Queen) Ė really does dominate this book. He details the 2004 Red Sox season with the eye and the pen of a true fan, with King popping up every so often (in bold print to distinguish his words from OíNanís) with further insight or commentary.

    Now, hereís true confession time: I am not a baseball fan. If I were, Iíd probably love the Red Sox. Iím a Boston boy, born and bred, and while I enjoy the atmosphere of the Red Sox, I have no use for the ins and outs of baseball. Iíve watched a few games, sure, and I was pleased when they won the World Series Ö but thatís all it really amounts to. In general, sports arenít my thing (although, truth be told, if King were to write a book about the Bruins, Iíd be a lot more interested.)

    Okay, some more confession: I love Stephen Kingís writing. You probably already gleaned that. I love his fiction, his poetry, his nonfiction (from his forewords and afterwords to his full-length books Danse Macabre and On Writing), even his screenplays. But I donít like his sports writing at all.

    I donít think heís the problem here. King obviously loves baseball, and itís actually quite keen to see King being a fan rather than the object of fandom. The problem is with me. I just plain dislike baseball, and couldnít care less about the particulars of games or rules or trades or anything. I didnít much care for Kingís celebrated nonfiction tale for The New Yorker, ďHead DownĒ (later collected in Nightmares and Dreamscapes), and to be honest, I didnít much care for Faithful.

    Let me stress that this is not Kingís fault. Itís not OíNanís fault either, mostly because I Ö well, I umÖ I didnít read the OíNan parts. I tried, I swear, but by page three it was either give up entirely or give up on OíNan. (I want to emphasize that OíNan isnít a bad writer, not in the least; itís just that I consider myself a gigantic Stephen King fan, and if Kingís writing about baseball doesnít work for me, you can imagine what itís like with someone who isnít King.) I chose the latter. Because I tend to be a completist, I couldnít just have the book on my shelf, staring at me, completely unread. So I skipped OíNan, and just read the King parts.

    My thoughts: I very much enjoyed Kingís discussions about how baseball made him feel. When he was focusing on his own reactions rather than the particulars of the game, the emotional resonance one can glean from his best writing shone through, bright and powerful. I also quite liked the interspersed email conversations he and OíNan partook in: with their sense of immediacy, jovial nature, and pop-culture references (these guys couldnít stop riffing on Napoleon Dynamite), it didnít matter what subject they were discussion. Here were two fans, sitting around, talking, and I got a little voyeuristic thrill with each glimpse into those conversations.

    Iím probably the wrong guy to be reviewing this book, but my love of Stephen King eclipses my dislike of baseball; Iím compelled to read what he writes and then comment on what I read. (I wonder if King fans not interested in the mechanics of writing had this problem with On Writing.) Youíd think, being a Boston guy and one of the biggest Stephen King fans Iíve encountered, this book would be a godsend for me. It continually frustrated me that I didnít like baseball more, which leads me to believe that, for a baseball fan (especially one who digs King), this book is perfect.

    My Stephen King baseball book will remain The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, a fiction piece that wove baseball into the narrative and wasnít distracting about it. In other words, the fan-love came through without all the details. For me, Iím glad I (mostly) read it so I can say I read it, and Iím glad it exists for those fans for whom it will work better.


    NEWS & NOTES

  • (May 13) From Scribner (by way of Lilja's Library):

    STEWART OíNAN AND STEPHEN KING TO COLLABORATE ON CHRONICLE OF BOSTON RED SOX í04 SEASON

    Writers to Create A Fanís Notes for the Ages, in Book from Scribner, Due in Late Ď04

    It began as an email exchange last summer. Filled with the heady mix of exhilaration and frustration familiar to all Boston Red Sox fans, writer Stewart OíNan fired off a note to a fellow fan, Stephen King, who responded with his thoughts on Pedro, Nomar, Manny, Mueller, and Theo.

    The 2004 season is the most hotly anticipated in recent baseball history. No team has a more central place in the story than the Red Sox--boys of summer with still new ownership, a new wunderkind General Manager, a new field manager, post-season trades for high-priced talent, the memory of their heartbreaking í03 finish, and their on-going and legendary rivalry with the New York Yankees.

    OíNan and King, lifelong Red Sox addicts, will chronicle the season from spring training and Opening Day through to the highly anticipated events of the fall, in a hardcover book that Scribner will publish in late Ď04. Theyíll go to some games together and each will keep a diary. Theyíll argue or agree about plays and trades, and the result will be a fanís notes for the ages.

    ďThe idea of a book about this yearís Red Sox by Stewart OíNan with participation by Stephen King is the best thing next to a seasonís ticket to Fenway. I know no true baseball fan will be able to resist this classic book,Ē said Susan Moldow, Executive Vice-President and Publisher of Scribner (and Red Sox fan).

    Stewart OíNan is the author of many works of fiction and nonfiction including A Prayer For The Dying, Wish You Were Here, and most recently The Night Country, the paperback of which will be published this October. His newest novel, THE GOOD WIFE, is due in February í05 from Farrar, Strauss & Giroux.

    ďI just got back from spring training,Ē OíNan says, ďand the guys are ready. Iím ready. Everyoneís ready. This is the year. Itís do-or-die time.Ē

    Stephen King, is one of Americaís best-known writers, and one of its best-known Red Sox fans. In 2003, he received the National Book Foundationís Award for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. In June, THE DARK TOWER VI: Song of Susannah will be released. This fall, the final volume in his acclaimed Dark Tower series, THE DARK TOWER VII: The Dark Tower, will be published September 21, by Scribner, and his first pop-up childrenís book, a retelling of his 1999 novel, THE GIRL WHO LOVED TOM GORDON, will be published October 26, by Simon and Schusterís Childrenís Division. The book, as yet untitled [the title is now confirmed as Faithful], was sold to Scribner for North American rights by OíNanís literary agent, David Gernert (a New York Mets fan). Simon & Schuster Audio will publish simultaneously with the hardcover. Nan Graham, editor-in-chief (and Red Sox fan) will edit the book which promises to galvanize the 20,000,000 members of Red Sox Nation and delight baseball fans worldwide.

    Simon & Schuster, part of the entertainment operation of Viacom Inc., is a global leader in the field of general interest publishing, dedicated to providing the best in fiction and nonfiction for consumers of all ages, across all printed, electronic, and multimedia formats. Its divisions include the Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group, Simon & Schuster Childrenís Publishing, Simon & Schuster Audio, Simon & Schuster Online, and international companies in Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom. For more information, visit our website at www.simonsays.com