Two short stories about the dark side of human nature
Read by Craig Wasson and Mare Winningham
Duration: 2 hours, 30 minutes
"Blockade Billy" is the reminiscences of a retired coach of the fictional New Jersey Titans, an American League baseball team. The coach is being interviewed by a man named "Mr. King." We never hear what Mr. King asks, only the story of a former player named "Blockade Billy" as told by this old coach who lives in a retirement home.
Stephen King is at his descriptive best in this story as he re-creates the world of 1957, when baseball ruled the sports pages. At times, it is like listening to Bob Costas or George Will, both writers who can wax on eloquently about this golden age of baseball (George Will actually gets a not very kind mention by the coach) which is much to King's credit. Due to his reputation as a producer of gore and horror stories, it is easy to forget that King can be a powerful, first rate author.
Blockade Billy is actually Billy Blakely, a catcher that was called up from the Iowa Cornhuskers, the Double A farm team of the New Jersey Titans on an emergency basis. No one expects much from Billy except that he not mess up too bad. Talking with him for even a couple of minutes and you realize that something is not right - no one can figure out of he is simple minded or maybe even crazy. However, when Billy takes the field everyone knows that kid can do it all - he hits, he fields and he even calms the high strung star pitcher - and he does it with confidence. He quickly earns the nickname "Blockade Billy" - the catcher who won't let any player get by him when there is a play at the plate.
But, the head coach starts to believe that Billy is sucking the luck out of the team and when they discover Billy's true story the coach is more correct than he thought...
"Morality" has a less detailed plot but it is a detailed study in guilt and what it does to people.
Chad and Nora Callahan are a married couple living in New York City. He is a teacher but can find nothing by substitute teaching work. He is also working on a book about his experiences being a substitute that seems to have some promise. His wife is a nurse who is working with a retired minister named George Winston who has had a stroke. It is steady work but their combined salaries are not quite enough and they are slowly going bankrupt. They are pinning their hopes on Chad's book, if he can find the time to get it done before their finances fail them.
One day Reverend Winston makes a proposition to Nora. He has never committed a major sin and now he is physically unable to do so. He is not interested in a sexual act, but he wonders if she would commit some sort of violent act (nothing permanent - it is a physical assault on a child in a park) on his behalf for $200,000? He figures that this act of "sin by proxy" will actually be doubly sinful since he has corrupted her as well. He preys on her fears of financial loss and on the promise of her husband's book, if he just had the time that the money will provide to finish it.
She decides to do it and discovers that this one act has major, life-changing implications.
I rate the combined set of stories 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: Blockade Billy by Stephen King.
Reviewed on July 23, 2011.