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The Southpaw

The Southpaw by Mark Harris
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With The Southpaw, novelist Mark Harris begins the remarkable saga of a gifted baseball pitcher named Henry W. Wiggen, which would unfold in four novels over the course of some 27 years between the publication of The Southpaw (1952) and It Looked Like For Ever (1979). Harris frames The Southpaw in an irresistible way, letting the fictional hero Wiggen "tell" his own story in the vernacular - bad grammar, run-on sentences, the works. In fact, the title page tells the reader that The Southpaw is "by Henry W. Wiggen / Punctuation freely inserted and spelling greatly improved by Mark Harris."

Henry Wiggen is a beautiful athlete - a perfect physical specimen and a gifted left-handed pitcher in a world that generally favors the right-handed. Despite his talents and his natural grace, the unpretentious small-town boy reaches manhood by the same arduous route followed by most boys. It is complicated, in his case, by that very talent and grace, and the expectations they create in everyone. Wiggen is that rarest of fiction heroes, a certifiable good guy, without guile, who wants always to do the right thing. Even for him, the challenges posed by personal and professional needs sometimes seem to be too much, as the stakes in his career steadily rise. The Southpaw follows Wiggen from his early days all the way to the World Series, a winning story of a good man living an extraordinary life.

"By far the best 'serious' baseball novel published", the San Francisco Chronicle wrote of The Southpaw - a critical response that is frequently echoed in discussions of all four of Mark Harris´ novels about Henry Wiggen. The Southpaw defines Wiggen, and Harris wields his vivid, stream of conscious style with wizardly skill. His hero is not a simple or uncomplicated man, he simply sees things as they are and says what he thinks. Wiggen is one of the most disarming characters in modern American fiction, in the age of the anti-hero. Harris does not paint him as a role model but as something much more compelling - a good man, with his share of flaws, whose basic decency allows him to be a hero. The acid test is whether the experience of The Southpaw encourages the reader to follow Wiggen´s saga in Bang the Drum Slowly. Invariably, it does.

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Title: The Southpaw
Author: Mark Harris
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