Review: Faithful

By Stewart O'Nan and Stephen King

King's name you recognize, while O'Nan is a bit of a dark horse, though he's written such best-sellers as Snow Angels, The Speed Queen, and Prayer for the Dying. It's O'Nan who carries most of the book, giving the play-by-play on each game, while King hangs in the wings, providing profanity-strewed commentary every couple of days.

Play-by-play? Couple of days? What is this book? Faithful, as its tagline notes, is "Two diehard Boston Red Sox fans chronicling the historic 2004 season." It's essentially a diary - O'Nan and King decided to collaborate together on a book about the season: they'd sit together at Fenway, exchange e-mails about the team, call each other for updates, and write individually about the season. And write they do, more than 400 pages of journal entries, every day from February 21st to October 28th. It's a weighty volume, and one that no Red Sox fan would pick up if they didn't already know that it had a happy ending.

If you wondering why this season is historic, or what the purpose of reading the book to live through a baseball season that we just lived through, than this book, and indeed this review, is not for you. Click away. This book is for Sox fans only.

Ultimately, that's what makes the book interesting. Faithful has become the Christmas present of the year up here in New England (we gave away a few copies for Christmas and got one in return) because this a year that Red Sox fans actually want to re-live. Normally, we'd cringe at the thought, faced with another September swoon or playoff failure to those hated Yankees. In Faithful, we get to live it all again, good times and bad - but we know that just on the other side of the book, we get to see that beautiful October blossom all over again. That makes it worth once again living through the season: the early season domination, the June Swoon, the sputtering through the summer, the Garciaparra trade, the desperation at the beginning of August, the sudden string of victories, catching back up to the Yankees - we know that once we make it all the way through, we'll get to beat those damn Yankees again.

That's the only reason to read this book. If that thought doesn't excite you, than you won't make it through more than a few dozen pages. This book is written by Red Sox fans, for Red Sox fans, and that sole thought of beating the Yankees is what dominates this book - that desperate, impossible dream that somehow, magically, became a reality.

O'Nan's steady, solid writing carries the work all the way to October, but it is King who thrives when the drama mounts as the playoffs begin. When the Red Sox falter in the ALCS and are on the verge of failing, it his eloquent writing that reminds the reader of that desperate feeling, before we knew that the Red Sox would turn it around:

"Yet we are still faithful; still we believe. Tonight we'll once again fill the old green church of baseball on Lansdowne Street, in some part because it's the only church of baseball we have; in large parte because - even on mornings like this, when the clean-shaven Yankee Corporate Creed seems to rule the hardball universe - it's the only church of baseball we can really love. No baseball team has ever come back from a three-games-to-none deficit to win a posteseason series, but a couple of hockey teams have done it, and we tell ourselves it has to happen sooner or later for a baseball team, it just has to.

We tell ourselves Derek Lowe has one more chance to turn 2004 from tragickal to magickal.

We tell ourselves it's just one game at a time.

We tell ourselves the impossible can start tonight."

Ultimately, the thrill of this book lies in the anticipation of the ending, not the actual payoff. You could probably acquire the same thrill through watching the World Series tape over again. But in mid-season, you just can't put it down, waiting to see what happens when Cabrera finds his rhythm and starts hitting, when Millar gets hot, when the team suddenly gels and starts playing championship baseball. And if you're any sort of Sox fan at all, you can't help but smile to see it all again.

The payoff: Three stars out of five - the book doesn't provide the same joy as a World Series win, but it's at least on par of the visceral thrill of say - watching Varitek give A-Rod another two-handed shot to the mouth. That's good enough for me.