Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Bronx is Burning

That's the title of ESPN's dramatization of the 1977 Yankees season. I haven't seen any of it, but sounds like it's not too bad. When I was in the US I bought the book on which the series is based simply because I knew I wasn't going to get to watch it.

Anyway, I'm enjoying the book, but I don't know if it's a good book. I think it's more like a very good magazine. Maybe a sort of tabloid newspaper annual for 1977. Here's what I mean.

There are two different stories here that the author, Jonathan Mahler, is telling simultaneously. One is the story of New York in 1977 and the other is the story of the Yankees in 1977 (this is the basis for the t.v. series). Both are interesting stories and obviously, there's some overlap, but I don't know if there's enough to make the book work.

The baseball part is all right, but I've read a lot about the Yankees in those years already and there's not a lot here that's new to me. Nice as a refresher.

The chapters that deal with the city - the politics, the blackout, the fear (specifically Son of Sam) - I think are better. That might be because I have my memories of that year, but I'd forgotten a good deal and also that I probably knew less than I thought. I was 13 that summer and living upstate, but I spent most of July in Queens. I remember the fear, particularly the blackout.

The problem is that the book jars as it shifts from the hard news to the sports. A few chapters on the mayoral election followed by a couple of chapters on the Yankees. It's like reading a tabloid newspaper, except that the sports is mixed in rather than at the back.

As a series of short stories it works well, possibly only if you have enough background knowledge. I don't know. I don't think it works as a unified narrative, however. As a gimmick it would probably have been better as two short books in the one package - maybe one of those where you turn it over to find the other book.