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Stephen King
BLOCKADE BILLY
Scribner / Simon & Schuster
Format: Hardcover / Audiobook
Release Date: May 25, 2010
By John Vogel January 10, 2011

Because I know that you’re always supposed to judge a book by its cover, I first clocked this new release by the famous author as being geared towards teenagers. And that’s not far off, but it gets pretty inappropriate for youngsters by the end of Blockade Billy, and the bonus story, “Morality,” is surely something that a teenager would read but probably shouldn’t. And as someone who used to listen to Guns N’ Roses in the first grade and tried to read Cujo in the third, I’m a pretty lenient judge as to what kids should or should not be reading.

Stephen King is an author who many people read avidly in their teens but rarely follow up on in their adulthood, and therefore adopting the style and feeling of a teen novel seems appropriate. As an adult reader of the author, though, it’s relieving that, despite the easy readability, King doesn’t pull his punches in content. I’ve been recently rekindling my childhood love of King, mostly focusing on his early works at first, then to some of the later works, and I’ve just recently taken my first two steps towards The Dark Tower, but I still have a lot of holes to fill when it comes to an all-encompassing view of the horror master’s work. And that feat seems to be nearly impossible considering his output. Who has that kind of time?

But the main thing that I’ve found in revisiting him is that there is still value to his writing that I’m gaining as an adult but which I couldn’t have picked out in my teenage years. Of course, that rediscovery means wading through the mucky muck that drew me to him in my youth, which can be similar to revisiting awkward moments of your adolescence, making you cringe in embarrassment. In that mucky muck are golden nuggets, though, and you have to dig deep to get to them, but they’re planted just the same. For anyone (and especially those who shy away from King on account of his genre), I would recommend On Writing as something that captures his universality and voice with the least amount of bullshit (his term: “I figured the shorter the book, the less the bullshit”), and which coincidentally just witnessed a 10th Anniversary reprint.

Blockade Billy tells the story of young baseball catcher William “Blockade Billy” Blakely, given the titular nickname for his ability to stop runners at the plate, through the voice of an elderly man at a retirement home talking directly to a Mr. King. There’s something slightly amiss about the catcher, though, and sure enough it goes in a direction that could be considered predictable given King’s past work, but still isn’t predictable enough to keep it uninteresting, and is told with the soothing voice of an experienced story-teller. The follow-up bonus story, “Morality,” depicts a couple’s moral dilemma on behalf of a priest’s request. Devolving into devious behavior, the story leaves one with a nice, unsettled feeling. Nice, that is, if you’re into that sort of thing.

As a whole the publication is more like a quick vacation than a place of residence, easily readable in a day or two. Unsurprisingly, King has stated that Blockade Billy took him two weeks to write. It’s dedicated to old-school baseball, everyone who’s put on the gear, and everyone who’s been telling him to write a baseball story for years. Next up is Full Dark, No Stars, a collection of four novellas. It seems natural enough to follow the lengthy efforts of Duma Key and Under the Dome with some shorter works, and Blockade Billy and “Morality” provide pleasurable enough get-aways for his readers.

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