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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joe Holley writes the “Native Texan” column for the Houston Chronicle. A native Texan himself, he received degrees from Abilene Christian University, the University of Texas at Austin, and Columbia University. He is a former editor of the Texas Observer and a regular contributor to Texas Monthly and the Columbia Journalism Review.
Holley is a former editorial page editor and columnist for newspapers in San Antonio and San Diego and a staff writer for The Washington Post. He joined the Houston Chronicle in 2009.
Hardcover, 978-0316485241, 272 pages (also available as paperback and ebook), $27.00
May 1, 2018
Reviewed by Chris Manno
If you’re looking for a baseball collectible enshrining the 2018 World Champion Houston Astros and their hurricane-battered host city, then Joe Holley’s Hurricane Season: The Unforgettable Story of the 2017 Houston Astros and the Resilience of A City is it. If you’re looking for a focused historical sports narrative, this may be more problematic to read.
The story loops forward and backward and changes narrative modes like a frenetic Robin Williams anecdote: it’s robust, very colorful, entertaining, but exhausting in the end. Ultimately, the reader has a hard time deciding what this book is, because Holley himself seems confused as to what it should be.
Like most baseball game commentary, Holley tends to be overly verbose here. That is consistent with the book’s sixteen-word title but tiring for the reader. He opens with compelling if paradoxical (am I reading a radio broadcast transcript?) play-by-play that is laden with the foibles of baseball sportscasting, including over-embellished narration (maybe it is a radio broadcast of the game) like “the first pitch Keuchel threw to Taylor was as juicy as a ribeye at Wolfgang Puck’s Cut restaurant on Wilshire.”
Then, we sidestep to a stark foretaste of Jim Crane’s lifelong, relentlessly hard-working ethos (his mother sent him a handwritten bill for the spending money she gave him in college), his rise in the business world, and finally, the precipice of a baseball franchise purchase. Flash back a hundred years to the settling of mosquito, malaria and wildcatter-infested Houston. Leap forward to the NASA-esque outcome predictive computer labs with a side order of Moneyball movie outtakes. Toss in some personal narrative covering what the author’s wife told him during a previous hurricane, and where his adult kids flew in from for a family gathering. You get the picture: ladies and gentlemen, we have a wild ballgame on our hands—at least in the broadcast booth.
The story line weaving the Astros players’ personal lives, homes, families and their stake in the beleaguered city’s post-hurricane recovery perfectly frames the backdrop for their sincere efforts to help their desperate hometown with an astonishing triumph in the World Series. But more important, a reader might conclude, the big hearts that powered their big bats to an unlikely World Series victory also underwrote their street-level labor shoulder to shoulder with their fellow Houstonians fighting survival and recovery in the muck and wreckage of an epic natural disaster.
Hurricane Season is a mixed bag for the reader. The facts, the play-by-play, the background, and the player close up biographical sketches are thorough, intriguing, and, though more magazine-ish than literary, compelling. Equally gut-wrenching is the visceral hurricane narrative and Houstonian’s struggle to surmount an epic disaster, aided by a sincere group of talented yet unlikely world champions who showed a genuine humanism atypical in the high-dollar world of professional sports.
Houstonians will love the story, Astros fans will cherish the book, and sports fans might enjoy the narrative. For everyone else, this is a decent if somewhat laborious read.
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Chris Manno , a commercial pilot, is the author of the story collection Blood and Remembrance and the award-winning Texas novel East Jesus. He holds a doctorate in English from Texas Christian University and teaches writing at Texas Wesleyan University.
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