Montana escape

by Jenny Shank

High and Inside
Russell Rowland
230 pages, softcover:
$16.95
Bangtail Press, 2013.

Ex-Red Sox pitcher Pete Hurley comes to Bozeman to start a new life after a series of tragic mishaps that left him publicly shamed in Massachusetts. "Just as I was about to get over the incident that ended my baseball career," he explains, "a drunken accident left this young girl paralyzed, and I was in the news again." He moves to Montana to live near his sister, Danielle, the only surviving member of his immediate family, and to learn how to build a house.

The gradual cracking of Pete's limited awareness is the primary thrust of High and Inside, Russell Rowland's new novel. Pete, who narrates the story, thinks he suffers from bad luck, but his friends know better, and the reader realizes it as well in the first chapter, when Danielle tells him, "Please try not to drink too much while you're here."

But Pete can't stay out of trouble. On his first day in Bozeman, he goes to a sports bar with his brother-in-law, Barry, guzzles beer and gets into a brawl with Clint, an aggressive, alcoholic behemoth. Unfortunately, Clint is also the president of the local chapter of the American Society of Construction Engineers, and after the confrontation he's determined to create permit problems for Pete's house-building project.

Each chapter opens with a quote from a fictional source, either a baseball blog or a new-agey home-building guide called Your House, Your Self. These epigraphs help reveal the details and repercussions of the infamous pitch that ended both Hurley's baseball career and that of the promising batter he hit. But High and Inside is less about baseball than it is about how fame turned Pete into someone who may never have had to pay his own bar bill or go home alone, yet could never hide from the enemies he recklessly made.

For a novel that evokes the wide-open spaces – both baseball and Montana – High and Inside is a largely interior book, focused on the relationships that Pete must analyze, repair, or relinquish entirely as he gradually comes to acknowledge his alcoholism. Perhaps the most touching relationship is that between Pete and his three-legged female dog, Dave, whom he loves but cannot care for properly as his drinking intensifies.

High and Inside is a contemplative look at what happens to one of the boys of summer when autumn comes at last.

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