Critical Context (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series)
As a novel of the black experience, Runner Mack includes the expected incidents and attitudes: the stereotypes, the denial of dignity, the assertion of authority without explanation, whether in a raid or in military orders. Beckham, however, also dramatizes the plight of modern man in an urban wasteland of filth, pollution, noise, slums, and junkyards. Henry Adams is not puzzled merely because he is black. Therefore, Henry also becomes a modern Candide, surrounded by optimistic Panglosses. Like Candide, he moves from the search for a simple good—for Henry, his Beatrice and his career in baseball—to an inquiry as to whether the search itself can be successful. Yet unlike Candide, who at least can find meaning in work, Henry is left without a goal and with one more truck bearing down upon him.
It should be mentioned that although Beckham’s effective use of absurdist techniques in order to dramatize a modern urban black man’s perception of his world is his most significant accomplishment in this novel, critics have also been interested in his use of baseball metaphors throughout the book. It is not surprising that Henry, the baseball player, sees life as a baseball game. Evidently, for everyone, a strikeout is inevitable.