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FICTION : THE CONDUCT OF THE GAME by John Hough Jr. (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich: $14.95).

May 25, 1986|Dick Roraback

Right off the bat, John Hough throws us off stride. "Conduct" would seem to be a baseball book, but the hero is a youth whose dream is not to hammer homers or nibble at no-hitters but rather to be an umpire, the best damned umpire who ever lived. Next, it becomes apparent that while the novel is indeed set off by diamonds, it is not a book about umpiring either. It is a book about love, on many levels. About young love, sweet and true and rueful, and older love, bitter and equivocating and rueful. About love of an aging and embarrassing parent. Of a friend. Finally, and primarily, about love of honor. Competent, fair, just tough enough, Lee Malcolm makes it to the major leagues ahead of even his own demanding schedule. A fellow neophyte, Roy Van Arsdale, is equally competent, with an almost lyrical approach to the umpire's trade. Roy is also homosexual, a deeply rooted no-no among the profane men in blue. Lee is loyal. Baseball, of course, crucifies Van Arsdale in the end, and Lee is obliged to take his stand. . . . The prose is neither flowery nor blunt. Like baseball itself, it is symmetrical, rhythmic. On a scale of single to four-bagger, Hough has tripled, standing up.

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