Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Eric Nusbaum's "Stealing Home"

Eric Nusbaum is a writer and former editor at Vice. His work has appeared in Sports Illustrated, ESPN the Magazine, The Daily Beast, Deadspin, and the Best American Sports Writing anthology. Born and raised in Los Angeles, he has also lived and worked in Mexico City, New York, and Seattle. He now lives in Tacoma, Washington with his family.

Nusbaum applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Stealing Home: Los Angeles, the Dodgers, and the Lives Caught in Between, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Stealing Home is the first page of a short chapter about one of the book's central characters: a young man named Frank Wilkinson, who was raised conservative and Methodist, but found himself, in his twenties, becoming a radical atheist. The year is 1942. The city is Los Angeles. Here's the opening paragraph:
There was something about the Communist Party: The big ideas, the being on the right side of history, even the danger of it. In the early 1940s becoming a Communist wasn't so crazy. The party had been growing in America for a decade. Communists were deeply involved in labor and activism. They were freedom fighters and intellectuals in a city that was dominated by elite oil and real-estate magnates. Also, the United States and Soviet Union were now allies in Europe. To Frank Wilkinson, joining up made a certain level of sense. At heart, he was an institutionalist. He liked to feel like he belonged to something bigger. The Methodist Church wasn't cutting it anymore."
Soon, Frank will be recruited to join the party at the home of architect Richard Neutra and his wife Dione. Frank and Jean will then move into the upstairs of the Neutra's home.

I actually think you get a decent idea of the book, which is alternatively sweeping and intimate in the way it treats the city and the lives involved in this story. Frank's radicalization is an important development. You miss out on some of the other stuff: the principal family involved, the Aréchigas of Palo Verde, and, of course, baseball -- but the test more or less works.

An interesting thing about the Page 99 test in this instance: Frank Wilkinson was actually my initial way into this story as a high school student. He went on to live a long and fascinating life, which I will not spoil here (pick up the book!) , and ended up speaking to my class about the Red Scare many years after the action of Stealing Home takes place. The story he told, about his life, about Los Angeles, and about Dodger Stadium, was enthralling and moving to me. It led me on the path to writing this very answer.
Visit Eric Nusbaum's website.

--Marshal Zeringue