Three things shine through in this debut novel by J. Anderson Cross
--His detailed research and analysis on the historical aspects of his debut novel --His sincere passion for the subject of baseball and race --His inexperience as a writer
"The Bambino Secret" as history is based on speculation, because of his dark complexion and large facial features, that Babe Ruth had African-American genes in his family tree. While there is some speculation based on racially-charged nicknames during his playing career, nothing has ever been proven. Cross takes off from this thin thread and posits a link to a fictional Negro league player who encouraged Ruth to publicly admit his past and push for integration of the Major Leagues.
"The Bambino Secret" as a novel is a mess--flashbacks jump all over the place, sometimes with years indicating the time frames, sometimes not. Dialogue and description is stilted, awkward, too spare at times, too cliched at others, so that characters never build empathy and action never proceeds realistically. There are too many characters and too many "mysteries" at the core of the novel , and Cross never settles on one. When the "smoking guns" (plural) are finally revealed, they are almost an afterthought to both the author and the reader.
An example of how a professional fiction writer recently handled Babe Ruth in historical fiction is Dennis Lehane's The Given Day: A Novel, where interestingly Ruth is depicted playing a pickup baseball game first as the only white player on two teams of African-American players, then joined by Yankee and Cubs players to turn it into a white versus black matchup whose outcome ends up turning on race. Ruth's easy association with the African-American players is central to Lehane's picture of Ruth (he makes no claims that Ruth has African-American roots, however), as is his predatory sexual behavior, and Lehane's skill at handling the historical character in the fictional setting highlights how well this kind of writing can be done, in contrast to Cross's effort.
Which leaves me to comment on the sincere passion of the author. The front piece of the story states in bold letters "MUCH OF WHAT FOLLOWS IS TRUE ..." It is evident that Cross has done much research and cares deeply about the subject, so I believe his skill as a writer and researcher might have been better employed in a nonfiction book or extended magazine article about the subject. Writing fiction is a terribly difficult thing for amateurs (Cross is billed as a "former high-tech entrepreneur"), and the flaws in the fiction detract from the story I think Cross really wants to tell.
The premise of the book, that baseball star George (Babe) Ruth (also known as "the Bambino") was part black is a reasonable one, even if you do not consider some of his facial figures. Despite all the laws and social mores to the contrary, there was significant interbreeding between blacks and whites as soon as black slaves first arrived in the United States. Many slave owners thought nothing of being sexually involved with their female slaves, one writer, whose name I cannot bring to mind, wrote … more
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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