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One Fine Season by Michael Sheehan

One Fine Season is a deeply felt novel of faith and the afterlife. And baseball.

The readers who will enjoy this book most may well be those who liked The Shack by William P. Young. Like that extremely popular novel, One Fine Season features lengthy conversations about religion, God, the universe, and spirituality. And baseball. Lots of baseball. Michael Sheehan has obviously given much thought to the nature of things, and he knows and loves baseball. So on several levels, the novel has a great deal going for it.

In order not to completely give away the story, I’ll quote the synopsis on the back cover:

“Best friends Pete O’Brien and Danny Grace are exceptional college athletes, both hoping for successful careers as professional baseball players. When devastating events on a rural county road change everything, Danny struggles to overcome his suffocating grief to fulfill a pact the young men had made years before.

“An opportunity for Danny to achieve his dream appears unexpectedly when events conspire to thrust him into the major league spotlight. Along the way, three guides emerge to help Danny deal with his shattered faith, and lead him on a journey of spiritual and emotional healing that climaxes when he comes face to face with the universe’s ultimate plan for all mankind.”

On his baseball team, Danny meets a player, Johnny, who loves philosophical and spiritual discussions. Danny, whose inner world is in turmoil from the accident that changed his life, and who believes that his startling and newly found talent as a pitcher comes from beyond what humans can know, takes to Johnny, and their discussions form a significant part of the book. Here’s a small sample:

Danny asked, “Shouldn’t we give researchers credit for their desire to discover, to seek answers to timeless questions?”

[Johnny replies] “Of course – it’s one of mankind’s finest traits. And after all, isn’t that pretty much God’s great postulate? He’s basically telling us, ‘It’s for me to know, and for you to find out!’ But here’s an example of what I mean. Experiments have shown that if a fish is kept in a bowl for a long period of time, even when it’s released into a large tub, the fish continues to swim around in a small circle. Our narrative mind appears to work like that too. Only when we center ourselves in the harmonic connection that we’ve discussed before, which includes love, artistic expression, and spiritual states, can we achieve a transcendental experience that’s beyond rational and overcomes the strict limitations of religion.”

One of the most difficult aspects of fiction for writers to bring off is the philosophical novel with its lengthy discussions of the meaning of life and the origin of the universe. Written conversations about God’s intention for humanity and the universe tend to sound stilted, couched in language most people don’t use. Not that we don’t know the words, but I can’t recall when I last used “postulate” in a sentence.

Nor do people speak in paragraphs. Listen to conversation sometime. How do people talk? In fits and starts, with um’s and er’s to fill the spaces while we think. One good friend of mine has the habit of saying “Out there” whenever he pauses, and another uses, “What shall I say?” as a catch phrase when she stops to think.

Teachers of fiction writing tell beginning writers never to write ordinary conversation for this very reason, because catch phrases and space-fillers will drive a reader nuts. But there’s a happy medium in writing dialogue, between imitating conversation and writing mini-essays, which is difficult for many writers, especially in spiritual or philosophical conversations. Dialogue is part conversation in that it has to sound real, but it must also carry the story forward, contribute to the momentum. Dialogue is itself a form of action in a novel.

Because of this, writing convincing dialogue is one of the most difficult techniques a fiction writer has to learn. And One Fine Season attempts to do it while discussing some of the most complex ideas in modern theology.

For example, quantum theology. As I understand it, this spiritual idea suggests that as the universe is composed of minute particulates in constant motion rather than solid objects, the boundary between beings and objects is softer than humanity has conceived of it to be. Thought, for example, may be a type of particulate, the atoms of which may pass between entities without our realizing it, and therefore humans may be closer to the mind of God than we think. Danny and Johnny get into a discussion of quarks and quantum theology.

Heavy stuff for a novel, ideas that one usually encounters in thick abstruse tomes. And to tell the truth, I had to overcome a desire to flip past these discussions to get to the baseball parts, even though I’ve done some reading myself in quantum theology and find the possibility of joining with the mind of God exciting. At least, it may offer an explanation of why prayer works: Thought is comprised of quarks, too.

Unfortunately, to me at least, the conversations between the two men come across as stilted and not quite realistic. But in The Shack conversations among Jesus, God, and Mack do, too. I confess to not finishing this novel.

What bothers me about lengthy discussions of philosophy and religion in novels is that they too often stop the momentum of the story. Which is why it’s a good thing that the stop-action of the discussions alternates with the forward action in the baseball scenes. Sheehan obviously loves the game and know it very well. I learned more about baseball and found myself liking it better.

Danny’s interaction with some of his teammates might seem too goody-goody, but he also has an enemy, a jealous player of lesser ability who nearly sabotages his career.

This is a challenging novel, one that will appeal to readers who like to think about the nature of the universe and who like people. Some will see it as a specifically Christian book, but it seems to me to have a wider spiritual appeal. And in Danny, Sheehan has created a character mystified by his own ability, who has a loving nature. I couldn’t help liking Danny and rooting for him to find the answers to his questions. I think I’ll read it again.