(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Much of the action in The Southpaw concerns the experiences of Henry Wiggen, a young left-handed pitcher, after he joins the New York Mammoths and becomes part of their fight to win the pennant in the year 1952. Henry Wiggen relates his experiences in his own language, and his viewpoint is emphasized in the novel’s full title: The Southpaw, by Henry W. Wiggen: Punctuation Freely Inserted and Greatly Improved by Mark Harris. Born in Perkinsville, a small town in upstate New York, Henry Wiggen, like the entire town, is devoted to baseball. When he discovers that the local library has books on baseball, he works his way through a series of “How to Play Baseball” books as well as a series of adventure books about Sid Yule, a thinly disguised version of Henry’s idol, the great left-handed pitcher Sam Yale. After joining the Mammoths and becoming acquainted with Sam, Henry frequently alludes to passages in Sam Yale—Mammoth, a book that lauds clean living and obedience to authority, supposedly written by Sam. Sam finally suggests that Henry have his father send him the book.

When Sam reads the book which he is supposed to have written, he comments to Henry that it is “horseshit,” qualifying that judgment with the observation that the book is all right for most kids because they do not “aim very high.” Sam’s words are filtered through Henry’s grammatical constructions: “Those that aim high when they get there finds out that they should of went somewhere else.” Henry pretends to agree, but Sam discounts Henry’s assumed sophistication:It will take you 15 years to find out. You get so you do not care. It is all like a ball game with nobody watching and nobody keeping...

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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. Fimrite details the evolution of serious literature on baseball and asserts that until the publication of The Southpaw, baseball literature consisted of mostly “fairy tales” 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 The Southpaw as “facile realism in a facile style.” It is 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.