The Cactus League: A Novel (Hardcover)

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Cactus League pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training in Scottsdale, AZ in a mere 12 days on February 12. The spring air is slowly, slowly trying to gain momentum. And I can almost hear the crack of the bat. I can almost smell the hot dogs and peanuts. The Cactus League, a debut from writer Emily Nemens, is the hold-over that every baseball fan needs to get through the next couple of weeks until Spring Ball starts. 

This novel isn't a quick, three-up, three-down kind of read. It's layered, nuanced, and full of curves, floaters, and change-ups. Like the innings of America's favorite pastime, Nemens keeps her readers riveted, but it's not as simple as cheering for who's on the home team; the characters circle around each other, and it's only at the novel's conclusion that we really see who's won and who's lost.   

Interstitial chapters - written by an omnipresent reporter - reveal background - not only of the characters but also of the setting. Arizona's desert - its grit, mountains, inhabitants -  is as much a character in The Cactus League as the managers and players on the Lions's spring lineup. In the same way that the water sluicing down the mountainside made its way into the Pima Valley, the days on the road, the struggle of staying fit in the winter, and the wear and tear of the game have eroded players, managers, reporters, gate workers, and even the wizened organ player at Salt River Fields. Through the erosion, the story emerges. 

Jason Goodyear, Goody to his fans, is the All Star, but his luminescence is all but ready to fizzle and flicker out. He's an addict, a man with a passion for reckless behavior, and when he's not fighting for a win on the field, he's seeking the next big score, a win against the odds. The up-and-coming #1 draft pick Goslin can't catch a break - or a ball for that matter. The aged hitting coach feels the strain of so many seasons start to wear on him and his home life. Tami, a cleat chaser, has reached her lowest point, but is trying to hang on, to find her next meal. And a young boy, Alex P., who's the homeless son of a drug-addled, hot dog-slinging mother, wants simply to belong. 

But the beauty of Nemens's novel - the beauty of baseball - is that you can't simply count someone out; there's always a chance for redemption. And that's what works so well in The Cactus League: there are ups, there are downs, there are shutouts and grand slams, but there are also moments of sheer writing genius. Nemens gets the game - she writes like a seasoned, road reporter - but she also understands the intricacies of human relationships, and that's what keeps this novel firing on all cylinders.

For people who enjoy movies like Bull Durham, Money Ball, and The Sandlot, as well as books like Evie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes. 

— Shelly Walston

Description


Named a Best Book of 2020 by NPR and Lit Hub. A Los Angeles Times Bestseller. A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice

"In The Cactus League [Emily Nemens] provides her readers with what amounts to a miniature, self-enclosed world that is funny and poignant and lovingly observed." --Charles McGrath, The New York Times Book Review


An explosive, character-driven odyssey through the world of baseball from Emily Nemens, the editor of The Paris Review

Jason Goodyear is the star outfielder for the Los Angeles Lions, stationed with the rest of his team in the punishingly hot Arizona desert for their annual spring training. Handsome, famous, and talented, Goodyear is nonetheless coming apart at the seams. And the coaches, writers, wives, girlfriends, petty criminals, and diehard fans following his every move are eager to find out whyas they hide secrets of their own.

Humming with the energy of a ballpark before the first pitch, Emily Nemens's The Cactus League unravels the tightly connected web of people behind a seemingly linear game. Narrated by a sportscaster, Goodyears story is interspersed with tales of Michael Taylor, a batting coach trying to stay relevant; Tamara Rowland, a resourceful spring-training paramour, looking for one last catch; Herb Allison, a legendary sports agent grappling with his decline; and a plethora of other richly drawn characters, all striving to be seen as the season approaches. Its a journey that, like the Arizona desert, brims with both possibility and destruction.

Anchored by an expert knowledge of baseballs inner workings, Emily Nemens's The Cactus League is a propulsive and deeply human debut that captures a strange desert world that is both exciting and unforgiving, where the most crucial games are the ones played off the field.

About the Author


Emily Nemens is the editor of The Paris Review. She was previously the co-editor of The Southern Review. Her work has been published in Esquire, n+1, The Gettysburg Review, Hobart and elsewhere, and she is the author of The Cactus League.

Praise For…


"There are probably more good novels about baseball than any other sport. More bad ones, too. Emily Nemenss The Cactus League definitely belongs in that first lineup." --Charles McGrath, The New York Times Book Review

"[Nemens] demonstrates deep knowledge not only of baseball but also of American desperation . . . Nemens makes us care about even the worst of [her characters], a neat trick of unsentimental empathy and a testament to the power of careful, almost loving, observation . . . With her sharp eye for the details of unremarkable lives, Nemens at times reminds one of Joan Didion, and her Southwestern dreamers." --Kate Tuttle, Los Angeles Times

"A panoramic portrait . . . Nemenss adoration of the game is infectious, and her novel is packed with winning details." --Karen Heller, The Washington Post

[The Cactus League] tempers the grandiosity inherent in baseball and implies that games have always been an important part of being human . . . Its many pleasures come from spending time with Goodyear and the others whose lives connect to the game, and from pondering how the dramas of everyday life and the imperatives of professional sports influence each other." --Josh Ostergaard, San Francisco Chronicle

"As Nemens portrays the life of the teama pitcher is in thrall to pain pills; players wives hold a lingerie partyit starts to seem almost an organism, each constituent part brushing against others in a larger story of competition, survival, and obsession." --The New Yorker (Briefly Noted)

"[A] wise debut . . . [The Cactus League speaks] strongly to baseball's enduring vitality. The home runs and strikeouts may be background noise, but they're ubiquitous all the same. They've defined this community -- its heartbreaks, its victories, its changes. They've created a world." --David Canfield, Entertainment Weekly

"[Nemens] works within the quirky register of the heart, writing about one of her great passions: baseball. She crafts a humorous and emotional novel about a star outfielder, and the coaches, fans and criminals who inhabit the same off-kilter world." --Cody Delistraty, The Wall Street Journal


"Emily Nemenss debut novel about spring baseball, The Cactus League, has all of [Walt] Whitmans so described snap, go, and fling to it, but it carries with it the elusive spirit of the game, too . . . As a baseball novel, The Cactus League treads deftly between the conventions, clichs, kitsch, legends, and nostalgia inherent in a sport that is over half the age of the United States itself." --Mike Broida, Los Angeles Review of Books
"Baseball is said to be the most literary of sports, inspiring fiction that aims to capture its artistry and symmetry, so a book like The Cactus League that succeeds as a robust social novel hits the elusive sweet spot . . . Nemens creates an alternative world with nuance beyond the score sheet, rife with ambition and jealousy, disappointment and victory." --National Book Review

"In The Cactus League, baseball remains a sturdy vehicle to contemplate contemporary American culture, in addition to the whole dense spectrum of human relationships . . .captivating." --Brady Brickner-Wood, Harvard Review

"You dont have to enjoy baseball (sport, game, or what have you) to find this semi novel-in-stories a richly layered, often tender and generous, expos of the life of players, fans, and everyone in between . . . There is more to this book than the best sports reporting: peeling back the curtain, examining the people behind the statistics, and understanding that sometimes the most crucial plays are the ones happening off the field." --Sara Cutaia, Chicago Review of Books

"Nemens delivers an engaging, eccentric cast of players, coaches, families, and others who inhabit the world of baseball . . . From start to finish, Nemens captures the spirit of the game." --The Millions

"[A] quirky first novel . . . [The Cactus League] showcases a fascinating gallimaufry of characters who swirl around the edges of the springtime ritual . . . Nemens finds a kind of attenuated hope along with melancholy in these sharply etched character studies that end not with out three but out maybe.'" --Booklist (starred review)

"[An] insightful debut . . . each character is brought to life in convincing detail . . . this debut entertainingly illuminates people and problems usually overlooked in the sports pages." --Publishers Weekly

" A novel about baseball and how it shapes the lives of athletes as much as the town that supports itand a beautiful one at that . . . Like the best sportswriting, this bighearted, finely observed novel is about far more than the game." --Kirkus

Emily Nemens's magnificent debut is a masterwork of great empathy and detail, uncovering the realms of incredible pain and beauty enmeshed within every level of America's pastime. If you love baseball, you won't put it down, and if you don't love baseball, you might by the end. J. Ryan Stradal, author of The Lager Queen of Minnesota and Kitchens of the Great Midwest

A debut? Youve got to be kidding.The Cactus League reads like the work of a seasoned novelist. The way the storys tension ramps, the richly drawn characters, the indelible imageryyoull never see a ball park the samenot to mention Emily Nemenss knowledge of Americas pastime is downright encyclopedic. And while all those things are true, absolutely true, the heart of this amazing novel is Emilys understanding of the crucibles faced by those both in the limelight and out of it. Goodyear and the rest of the gang are a cast for the ages. Hip hip hooray for this achievement. Mitchell S. Jackson, author of Survival Math: Notes on an All-American Family

The Cactus League is not just another baseball novel. I can't think of another book that so carefully examines the complex ecosystem of professional sport. With both compassion and objectivity, Emily Nemens deftly depicts the rich lives and stories that swirl beneath the meaningless innings of spring training. Chris Bachelder, author of The Throwback Special

Emily Nemens gets beneath the imagethe macho chewing, spitting, ball fondling, the studied nonchalant distractionto the real people on the field and off. She's a true fan, and one hell of a writer. The Cactus League is crisp, clean, funny, and just plain good. If you love baseball, and fiction, you'll love this book." Brad Watson, author of Miss Jane



Product Details
ISBN: 9780374117948
ISBN-10: 0374117942
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication Date: February 4th, 2020
Pages: 288