Portrait of a baseball novel

Ron KaplanContributor IAugust 4, 2010


I guess I’m one of the few that read this one.

Dwight Garner wrote this profile of Tom Grimes — author of Season’s End: A Novel

— in connection with his new book, Mentor .

But now Mr. Grimes had finished his big new book, a Don DeLillo-ish novel about baseball that would eventually be titled “Season’s End.” He signed with Ms. Donadio’s agency. Roger Straus, the longtime head of the distinguished publishing house Farrar, Straus & Giroux, told Conroy he wanted to buy it. Mr. Grimes was on the road — or about to be.

Then the wheels began to come off. Ms. Donadio passed Mr. Grimes off to someone else in her agency. Straus gave Mr. Grimes’s novel to an editor in house, who was far less enthusiastic. Still, a small bidding war that included Farrar, Straus erupted for “Season’s End.”

Mr. Grimes, forced to choose a publisher on the spot, took Conroy’s advice and went with another respected house — Little, Brown, which made a higher offer (a very healthy $42,000) — rather than with Farrar, Straus, which he’d revered since he was young.

His editor at Little, Brown soon left, however, orphaning his book. He and Conroy had trouble attracting jacket blurbs from big names. (Norman Mailer declined, writing Conroy: “Every other day there’s a new genius on the block. It’s too hard to keep up.”) An early review in Publisher’s Weekly was brutally negative.

There were some upbeat signs. People magazine took Mr. Grimes’s photograph. But “Season’s End” was marketed as a baseball book rather than a literary one, Mr. Grimes writes ruefully, and got lost in a pile of other baseball books. His book tour was tiny. The New York Times didn’t devote a major review to the novel (though it did give it 140 words in the “Books in Brief” column in The New York Times Book Review) . It barely sold. It did not go into paperback. Essentially, it vanished.

“The book did change my life, not by telling me who I am, but by not telling me,” Mr. Grimes writes. “Its failure left me unfinished.” At Conroy’s urging, he began a new novel. When publishers saw sections of it, Mr. Grimes writes, “responses were swift and identical: no.” He was left to complete a novel no one wanted.

I love the backstory of the publishing world. “Straus gave Mr. Grimes’s novel to an editor in house, who was far less enthusiastic.” It just goes to show how much luck plays a part in determining which gets the glory and which gets chucked into the remainder pile.

I must admit, however, that Season’s End does not stand out in my mind like many of the other baseball novels I’ve read. Perhaps it was too literate, although The Celebrant and The Great American Novel were also relatively highbrow.