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Bang the Drum Slowly

Bang the Drum Slowly by Mark Harris
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The second of four novels that chronicle the career of baseball player Henry W. Wiggen - a set of books many consider the finest novels ever written about baseball - Mark Harris´ Bang the Drum Slowly, published in 1956, is a simple and moving testament to the immutable power of friendship. The title page announces that it is "by Henry W. Wiggen / Certain of His Enthusiasms Restrained by Mark Harris," a charming touch that lets the reader know that a genial, conversational first-person voice will tell the story.

Wiggen is a gifted pitcher in the major leagues, playing for a team that also includes a mediocre catcher named Bruce Pearson, a slow-talking Georgia boy who tries the patience of most of the team. Pearson has a terrible secret - he has been diagnosed with Hodgkins´ disease, which threatens not only his life but a career in baseball he desperately wants to have. When Wiggen finds out about Pearson´s illness, the casual acquaintance deepens into a profound friendship. Not only does Wiggen fight heroically to keep Pearson on the team, saving him from being sent down to the minors, the pitcher rallies their teammates to the cause. The miracle is that Pearson is transformed into a better ballplayer, but it is only a brief miracle - too late for man whose time has simply run out.

In what could in lesser hands be cloying and sentimental, Harris´ Bang the Drum Slowly has a gentle, unassuming dignity in its freewheeling colloquial style, verging at times on stream of conscious. Wiggen is an engaging and decent character, and his observations are lucid and refreshing. The characters are wonderfully realized through, from the drawling Pearson to manager Dutch Schnell and all the members of the team. Perhaps Bang the Drum Slowly is a great sports novel because it is not a sports novel, per se, but a warm and moving human comedy (despite the tragic turn of events) set in the magical world of baseball.

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Title: Bang the Drum Slowly
Author: Mark Harris
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