Chin Music

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Raymond Zajak, a Chicago White Sox pitcher with a reputation for a mean fastball and deadly aim, is himself felled by a fastball to the head during a World Series game and is rushed to the hospital in a comatose state. Awakening unattended two days later, Zajak divests himself of IVs and catheter and wanders from his hospital room into the streets of a city gone mad with panic over impending nuclear destruction. Amnesia brought on by the accident plays havoc with memory and intensifies his sense of confusion and terror as he makes his way slowly through the pandemonium of looting, death, and destruction in Chicago’s Loop, but a strong homing instinct sees him safely home to wife and family. Meanwhile, Zajak’s wife, Teresa, longs to spend the few remaining hours with those she loves, but she cannot find Jesse, her teenage son, who has chosen that precise moment for his first tentative essay into love, and she is thwarted in her efforts to get across town to the hospital where she believes Zajak to be. The family unit is briefly reunited but falls apart again as Jesse abandons family for his newfound love, and Zajak eases into coma and death, leaving Teresa to endure her final moments alone.

McManus heaps image on image in quick succession as he plays mind and word games in a stream-of-consciousness style. His writing is poetic in nature, Spartan in language, and varied in execution. Yet, the imagery, a mix dominated by baseball references, classics, and pop culture, often seems out of step with the style and may be lost on the casual reader.