Thursday, October 25, 2012

Joe Schuster's The Might Have Been

I recently read an excellent book by one of my friends, Joseph M. Schuster (who is on the editorial board of Redux and who is, alas, a Cards fan).  The Might Have Been is a haunting combination of baseball and midlife…though a reader really doesn’t have to be overly knowledgeable about baseball (or midlife!). 

From a writing standpoint, I admired the vast story we get through deft use of a jump in time.  The first half of the book covers the big moment of chronic minor league ballplayer Edward Everett Yates, when he makes it the majors for a brief, shining moment.  The second half of the book jumps forward thirty years, and we see who Edward Everett has become.  The writing is smooth and assured; I felt as though I was in the hands of a real storyteller.  (Read an excerpt here.)

From a story standpoint, this is the story we all live (or most of us, I suppose):  what do you do when the “dream” dies?  In this regard, it’s not really a story of midlife, since for many (most?) of us, those early dreams shift and change all along the way.  It’s rare to have a defining moment where the dream dies, as Edward Everett does.

I’m inspired by Joe's writing process.  Here, he discusses how long it took him to write this book, his first, and that long journey: 

Schuster worked on writing “The Might Have Been” for nearly 10 years. He said even though he’d worked on stories before, this was the first one he saw finishing to the end. His first draft was approximately 1,000 pages, then cut to 500 and eventually shrunk to about 370 pages.  (Read the whole profile here.)
And here’s an interview that will give you a good flavor of the book and why the reviews that I checked all seemed to include that word I went to, “haunting”:

I think one of the primary reasons many people aspire to dreams, especially dreams that may be beyond them, is because they want to avoid being “ordinary.” One of the things that always captures my attention are those early episodes of each season of shows like “American Idol” and “America’s Got Talent,” particularly those aerial shots we see on-screen of thousands of people lined up outside convention centers or theaters, waiting to see if they will even get thirty second to perform in front of the judges and maybe end up on television. Most of those thousands really believe they have the ability to become a star – how many times do we see someone sing off key and have a judge tell them they are horrible and then the person breaks into tears or rage? Those performers do not see themselves as convenience store clerks or elementary school teachers or cell phone sales associates; they see themselves as having the potential for greatness, they expect someone will elevate them out of the ordinary.

Part of the pull, of course, is they want to be lifted out of the World, where everyone else lives.

You see this in baseball all of the time. I’ve come across a lot of players who had a brief taste of the major leagues and then hung on in the minors for years after, thinking they’d get back to the major leagues, but they never do.  
Read on.

And for fun, here’s Joe’s playlist.


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.