Strong Emotions

BY foxsports • June 13, 2015

I've read Jonathan Franzen's first, third, and fourth novels (his fifth is coming out soon).

But somehow his second, Strong Motion, has always escaped me.

Until now. And I've been thrilled to discover that the novel, set in and around Boston, contains a great number of references to baseball and the Red Sox. Franzen's interest in bird-watching is well-known, and plays a big role in Freedom. But if he's got any interest in baseball, that had previously eluded me.

Again, until now. At one point two of our anti-heroes are at Fenway, and we get this: "There was a fatness, a fullness, a pleasing lack of abstractness to the motion of the ball as it sprang off a bat and hissed through the infield grass, found the center of the third baseman's glove and received fresh kinetic energy and overtook the runner at first base."

And a bit later in the book, this passage:

Fortunately for everyone, the Red Sox began June by sweeping a series with the Yankees at Fenway and carrying a streak of seven wins on a trip to the American League West. No sane person believed the So would actually end up winning their division, but at the moment they could hardly be said to be losing ground, and what was one supposed to do? Boo in advance? Later in the summer there would be plenty of opportunities to revive the old hatred and envy -- Bostonians' hearts would pound and their throats would tighten at the very thought of baseball's winners, their soporifically effective pitching staffs, the arrogant baby-cheeked sluggers whom God unbelievably permitted to hit homer after homer, and the horrible fair-weather fans, cheap euphoria smeared across their faces like the juice of sex and peaches, who thought that this was what baseball was all about, that it was about winning and winning handily -- but as long as the streak lasted, the city was full of heathen haves blissfully oblivious to the have-nots of the sports world, and in the absence of further tremors, the fear of death and personal injury had retreated to its rightful place, far to the rear of people of people's minds.

Yes, that really is how Franzen writes. About everything, in this book anyway (and probably all the time, if I took the time to check his other ones). Strong Motion isn't anything like a novel about baseball; it's about earthquakes and pollution and (of course) horribly dysfunctional relationships.

If you enjoy your literature leavened with baseball, though, as I do, you might oughtta check it out.


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