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Onyx reviews: Faithful by Stewart O'Nan and Stephen King

In late 2003, authors Stephen King and Stewart O'Nan discussed the prospects of the Boston Red Sox, who were ousted from the playoffs in game seven of the ALCS championship by their longtime nemeses, the NY Yankees. Next year, they decided, the team just might go all the way. O'Nan's editor suggested a book about the 2004 series; O'Nan agreed, with one condition: only if King collaborated.

Anything with King's name on it usually shoots to the top of the bestseller list. While Faithful will likely do very well for its authors, readers who aren't baseball fans may not be as quick to snatch this one up. The book is written in fluent baseball-ese, a language containing references to the DH rule and such mysterious descriptors as the 4-6-3 DP. The cast of characters is bigger than in many of King's miniseries, and major players vanish in mid-season to be replaced by newcomers.

Of the two, Stewart O'Nan is the more hardcore "fan"atic, wrapped up in statistics and trends. He gets to the ballpark hours early to watch batting practice (sometimes bringing a fishing net to help shag fly balls). He taunts members of the opposing teams. When he can't attend, he watches games on television and yells at the screen. He even listens on a pocket radio with an earphone during his daughter's high school graduation.

King, a long-suffering fan of a team that hadn't won a World Series since 1918, shortly before Babe Ruth was sold to the dreaded Yankees, views the season in a different context. He's less about statistics and individual games and more about the personalities and the broader significance of America's national pastime. Some of his sections (printed in bold to differentiate them from O'Nan's entries) are entertaining, witty essays, written in a casual style that will be familiar to readers of his Entertainment Weekly column.

He is blunt, superstitious, pessimistically hopeful like only a New Englander could be, and surprisingly sentimental. He recounts his exhilaration and trepidation about throwing out the first pitch at Fenway late in the season, certain that his attendance will bring an end to the Red Sox' longest winning streak of the season (it does) and that the Boston sportswriters will blame him (they do).

King's enthusiasm for the sport is contagious, and his participation in the book increases as the season develops. At times-during the June Swoon, for example-he can hardly bring himself to watch, but once the team rebounds and starts living up to their potential, he can't keep himself away.

O'Nan and King had no way of knowing in advance just how magical a season they chose to chronicle. If the Red Sox had performed badly, Faithful would have been no more than a blip on the literary radar. However, given the Red Sox victory under an entirely apropos blood-red lunar eclipse, this journal by two fans of the game will likely be forever associated with the purging of a curse and a David-and-Goliath tale with a fairy tale ending.

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