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Fiction Book Club Reads About Jackie Robinson

If you’ve read my past blogs about the Falmouth Public Library Fiction Book Club you might recall that we are reading our way through a series of six novels about real people.  To date, we’ve read about Marie Antoinette, Lady Jane Grey (who was Queen of England for nine days), Harriet Beecher Stowe, Henry James, and most recently, Jackie Robinson.  We will finish the series on February 20 & 21, 2013 with the book Regeneration by Pat Barker, which is about the poet and WWI war protestor, Siegfried Sassoon.

This month we discussed Robert Parker’s book, Double Play, a novel about famed baseball player Jackie Robinson during his rookie season with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, when he broke the color barrier in major league baseball – a brazen and highly contentious move at the time.  As book selectors, Jill and I try to provide a variety of novels in this book club, but this one seemed to come out of left field for some group members!  A few called the book “fluff” and noted that it was a much quicker and simpler read than we usually have, what with only two major characters, a simple plot and much of text being succinct and snappy dialog.  In the evening group, only one person knew and enjoyed Robert Parker books, the other members were not familiar with him or his genre of hard-boiled detective novels.  Most known for his mystery series based in Boston featuring the strong, silent and honorable private detective, Spenser, Parker reads like a modern Dashiell Hammett (creator of “hero-detective” Sam Spade). 

In Double Play, we have a Spenser doppelganger, Joseph Burke, an emotionally vacant WW II veteran, deeply wounded both physically and emotionally, who is now employed as a body-guard to Jackie Robinson.  As another strong, silent man with absolutely no fear of danger, Burke goes everywhere with Jackie and protects him from harm, including two assassination attempts.  Racial segregation, baseball, New York City organized crime, and personal redemption are main themes we touched upon in the discussions.  Unlike the other books in our novels about real people series, the real person is not the leading character.  Rather, Jackie shares the spotlight with the taciturn Burke.  The book is as much, if not more, about Burke’s transformation as it is about Jackie. 

After discussing Double Play for an hour several group members came to the conclusion that the book was deceptively simple.  There was a lot more going on in it than the easy text implies. We learned without realizing it what it was like to live with segregation as Jackie and Burke, who is white, were repeatedly turned down by taxis, hotel owners, restaurants because one of them was the wrong color.  We discovered layers of plot that were initially overlooked.  The format that perplexed all the readers, was explained to a chorus of “ah hahs”.  And, almost everyone was introduced to a genre they had never before read.  Admittedly, half of the group didn’t like the book before the discussion, but they still liked talking about it!

Come join us next month for Regeneration and read about Siegfried Sassoon.  Copies of the book can be picked up at the reference desk. 

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