Issue No. 77
I was there when the Phillies won the 2008 World Series. A joyous mayhem of clogged streets and flipped cars ensued, and for an evening it seemed possible that the entire riotous city was in a good mood. Last week, Red Sox fans celebrated in similar fashion. But fandom is a mysterious beast, and as devotees party late into the night, less-than-zealous bystanders (perhaps those whose cars were flipped) are left to ask, Why?
On a recent episode of Radiolab, Stephen Dubner, co-author of Freakonomics, had an answer. “[Sports are] a proxy for real life, but better. […] There are conflicts that seem to carry real consequences but at the end of the day, don’t. It’s war where nobody dies. It’s a proxy for all of our emotions and desires and hopes.”
In other words, sports, like literature, give us access to a heightened, even exalted, life. The value is personal, but the implications are national. In “Home Run,” Steven Millhauser takes it to an intergalactic level, as a ball clocked by McCluskey soars out of the park, into the sky, and out of this world.
Rarely does literature get away with being joyous and hopeful, but here it is. A perfect specimen.
I’m hard-pressed to think of another story without a downside. In literature, if there’s a happy memory it’s framed by death or heartbreak. If there’s a description of natural beauty it’s cut with the viewer’s inability to posses that beauty, to make it last. A home run, on the other hand, is a triumph that can be shared, an unadulterated success that makes us forget ourselves for as long as the ball is in flight.
And yet what “Home Run” celebrates is more than our national pastime—it celebrates language. Fitting for a sport that has spawned dozens of idioms, from bush-league to wheelhouse. The Boston Globe recently called the sport “America’s preferred metaphor,” H.L. Mencken’s The American Language contains an entire section on “Baseball-American,” and there’s even a TED talk (given by my high school English teacher) on replacing baseball as our go-to sexual metaphor.
And thus “Home Run” is written in another language, one that honors an American tradition while dipping playfully into satire.
With nary a punctuation mark other than a comma, Millhauser builds momentum like the titular home run—the linguistic equivalent of bated breath, of rally towels, of screaming from your seat, of going, going, gone.
Talk about a moon shot.
Co-Editor, Electric Literature
Support Recommended Reading
By Steven Millhauser
Recommended by Electric Literature
About the Author
Steven Millhauser is the author of twelve works of fiction, including the story collections Dangerous Laughter and The Knife Thrower. His most recent book is We Others: New and Selected Stories.
About Electric Literature
Electric Literature is an independent publisher working to ensure that literature remains a vibrant presence in popular culture. Electric Literature’s weekly fiction magazine, Recommended Reading, invites established authors, indie presses, and literary magazines to recommended great fiction. Once a month we feature our own recommendation of original, previously unpublished fiction, accompanied by a Single Sentence Animation. Single Sentence Animations are creative collaborations: the author chooses a favorite sentence and we commission an artist to interpret it. Stay connected with us through our eNewsletter (where you can win weekly prizes), Facebook, and Twitter, and find previous Electric Literature picks in the Recommended Reading archives.
“Home Run” © Copyright Steven Millhauser 2013.