(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Bang the Drum Slowly is not a sequel to The Southpaw (1953), even though many of the characters in Mark Harris’s earlier novel reappear in this second novel narrated by Henry W. Wiggen (the full title is Bang the Drum Slowly by Henry W. Wiggen: Certain of His Enthusiasms Restrained by Mark Harris). When references are made to The Southpaw, those passages are reprinted in Bang the Drum Slowly. Henry Wiggen, who tells the story, is a star pitcher for the New York Mammoths. Bruce Pearson, his roommate and the third-string catcher for the Mammoths, is dying of Hodgkin’s disease. The novel begins as Bruce calls Henry from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, to tell him that he must come to see him, and it ends with a winning season for the Mammoths and Bruce’s death. After Bruce checks out of the hospital, Henry and Bruce drive to Bruce’s hometown of Bainbridge, Georgia. The principal activities in Bainbridge are waiting for the mail and swatting flies on the front porch. The high point of the visit for Bruce is learning to play Tegwar, a game in which the rules change all the time and the object is to keep a straight face. Bruce wants to continue to play ball as long as he can. Realizing that Lester T. Moors, Jr., the owner, and Dutch Schnell, the manager, would release Bruce if they knew of his illness, Henry and Bruce decide to keep it a secret. When Henry negotiates his contract for the year, he includes a...

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(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Fimrite, Ron. “Fiction in a Diamond Setting: Mark Harris’s Novels Sparkle with Hard-Edged Realism.” Sports Illustrated 73 (October 15, 1990): 117-122. A biographical and critical profile of Mark Harris. The models for some of the characters in Bang the Drum Slowly are discussed. Fimrite details the evolution of serious literature on baseball and asserts that until the publication of Harris’s The Southpaw, baseball literature consisted of mostly “fairy tale” boy’s books written by fabulists. Fimrite also notes the influence of Ring Lardner and Mark Twain on Harris’s baseball books.

Harris, Mark. Best Father Ever Invented: The Autobiography of Mark Harris. New York: Dial Press, 1976. In his autobiography, written during the 1960’s and published in 1976, Harris portrays himself as depressed over his work, categorizing his earlier baseball novel, The Southpaw, as “facile realism in a facile style.” A fascinating early self-portrait of a writer who has since come to terms with himself and his writing.

Harris, Mark. Diamond: Baseball Writings of Mark Harris. New York: Donald I. Fine, 1995. A collection of baseball writings by Harris spanning 1946 through 1993. Provides an illuminating view into Harris’s devotion to the game and the evolution of his thinking on numerous topics. Also included is Harris’s screenplay of the movie version of Bang the Drum Slowly.

Lavers, Norman. Mark Harris. Boston: Twayne, 1978. Lavers provides a critical and interpretive study of Harris, with a close reading of his major works, a solid bibliography, and complete notes and references.