Daniel Okrent

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 439

"The Seventh Game" is a novel about an aging pitcher on the mound for the last game of a world series (probably the last game of his career), and of the life he has lived up until this particular October afternoon. Mr. Kahn commits enough writerly sins to send himself back to the minors. The book is littered with borrowings, from his own work (he tosses compliments at friends he encountered and evokes the places he visited on his summer's research for "A Season in the Sun"), from other baseball books (most notably, and regrettably, those by hacks of the 40's and 50's) and even from Tom Wolfe…. (pp. 11, 21)

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But worse than the attributable borrowings are the clichés so firmly grounded in bad baseball literature that they are beyond tracing. He gives us predictably venal owners, dishonest agents, subliterate players (save, of course, for the [Nathaniel] Hawthorne-reading, [Claude] Monet-appreciating protagonist), a World War II bombercrew lineup (players and coaches named Dubcek, O'Hara, Levin, Domingo—I think it's Domingo; sometimes it appears as "Santo Domingo"—and Roosevelt Delano Dale). The hero is a fine man, happily married to a loyal peach of a girl, yet he's having an affair with the well-bred sister-in-law of the baseball commissioner. All major-league teams mentioned in the book go by their own names, except for the two meeting in the series—the New York Mohawks and the Los Angeles Mastodons (Mastodons? For a baseball club? Roger Kahn is the last writer I'd expect to display a tin ear).

That Roger Kahn should write such a book just doesn't make sense. He brings his special gift to bear on only a few episodes, mostly near the book's end. The hero's relationship (every ball-player's relationship?) with his wife—or, rather, hers with him—is captured in a brief and unerring speech….

And [Kahn's] portrait of the particularly hypocritical, snobbish and horny baseball commissioner is a gem.

But these exceptions are rare. "The Seventh Game" is flat, sloppy and pointless: Needlessly displaying his erudition, Kahn places the Medici in Venice and sets the duration of a law-school education at four years; losing track of his own characters, at the close of the book he grafts a trait onto one character that he had earlier ascribed to another. Yet the book provides a cautionary lesson. There are intelligent, observant, acute nonfiction writers who simply should confront fiction as a smart hitter confronts a low slider on the outside corner: They should let it go and wait for the pitch they can hit. (p. 21)

Daniel Okrent, "Imaginary Baseball," in The New York Times Book Review, July 25, 1982, pp. 10-11, 21.∗

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