By Jonathan Curelop
Book Case Engine
It’s an open question whether baseball still qualifies as the national pastime, given the popularity today of football and basketball (not to mention texting and tweeting). But in Jonathan Curelop’s novel “Tanker 10,” baseball is not only the game of choice but a central component of the growth and redemption of the book’s main character.
Curelop, a 1987 graduate of the University of Massachusetts Amherst now living in New York City, begins his story in Brockton, southwest of Boston, in 1976. Ten-year-old Jimmy LaPlante loves baseball and the Red Sox, and the sport is one of the few bright spots in his life: He’s frequently ridiculed in school because he’s overweight, and at home he’s relentlessly bullied by his older brother, Cliff.
One day Cliff’s bullying turns physical, and Jimmy suffers a terrible injury that alters the trajectory of his life. Jimmy’s self-esteem, never great, becomes almost non-existent before he re-dedicates himself to baseball, loses his extra weight, and, as the novel takes him into middle and then high school, becomes a star player.
But up into college, Jimmy is still grappling with the legacy of his childhood injury, including social awkwardness and lack of confidence, especially around girls. Jimmy must get past additional barriers before he can come to terms both with himself and his brother.
In the end, “Tanker 10” is a story of resilience and overcoming fear, as well as the cruelty that can be inflicted on children and adolescents who are considered different. It’s the first novel by Curelop, who has published a number of stories in journals, and works as an editor and as a compliance officer with an investment bank.
By James Hurley
Somewhat in the tradition of Norman MacLean’s acclaimed novella “A River Runs Through It,” James Hurley’s novel “The Contest” is about the lure of fly fishing and the role it plays — symbolically, philosophically and competitively — in the life of its middle-aged narrator.
Hurley, an Easthampton writer and musician — and angler — tells the story of Benedict Salem, a teacher and writer who’s feeling a bit burned out with his life, as well as blocked creatively. Looking to step away from his problems, at least for awhile, he heads to western Maine to immerse himself in what in the past has always been a rich, soothing experience: fly fishing for trout.
Benedict — or “BS,” as his friends call him — arrives at the Crossing House Inn, a rambling old house on the edge of a riverine wilderness; he soon befriends the inn’s longtime proprietor, Bill Cahill, who doesn’t fish that much anymore but still loves to cater to anglers. Bill and Benedict team up with other visiting fishermen to form a club, with a contest for its members — creating the perfect fly for catching trout.
But the friendly contest begins to dissolve into a bitter rivalry that threatens to tear the group apart, as its members’ competitive instincts supplant the camaraderie and friendship that normally comes from fly casting.
“The sincere attraction we all feel for our usually pastoral pastime can create a rather combustible atmosphere when one’s beliefs and personal truths are challenged,” Benedict says.
In the end, as the publisher notes, “The Contest” is not just an exploration of the mystique and attraction of fly fishing but a story that “challenges the wisdom of chasing perfection, and instead encourages the reader to revel in life’s most important moments, however brief or passing.”