I’ve been delaying this review of Country Hardball, mostly as an excuse to re-read some of the stories in this book. Steve Weddle’s novel in stories is such a gem of a book, brimming with intense, sharp writing I can’t stop myself from sinking back into it, reveling in it.
Set along the Louisiana-Arkansas border, Weddle documents a series of desperate lives. Some of the characters are the architects of their own fate, others have been poleaxed by the cruelty or indifference of others. They live in a world where everyone knows your family going back generations, and your last name can be an indictment. Crime plays into all of their stories, sometimes more directly than others. I genuinely couldn’t tell which had more impact, the ones that explode into violence, or the ones more concerned with the fallout of that violence.
What’s more, most of them are just trying to stop the bleeding, one way or another. They don’t put their pain into words, but they don’t have to. Weddle knows the way someone stands, or considers their hands says more about how they’re holding up than words ever could. He pours so much empathy into describing the humanity of these characters, and the way each small victory or degradation weighs on them.
The title alludes to baseball, the game recurs a few times throughout the book. Still, the sport I found myself comparing Weddle’s writing to most frequently was boxing. Like a great fighter, he doesn’t just try and pummel you; he weaves and dances, choosing his spots and catching you off guard. I was caught numerous times reading this, distracted by the feint before being jabbed hard. Several stories here knocked the wind right out of me so profoundly I had to re-read them, and walked into the same body-blow each time. Steve Weddle’s a writer I’ll be watching for in the future, because Country Hardball is a hell of a book.