The Beckoning World: A Novel by Douglas Bauer

The Beckoning World: A Novel by Douglas Bauer

The Beckoning World is a complex novel: intelligent and sentimental in equal measure, carefully restrained and yet brimming with emotion, grounded in reality but fanciful in its fantasy of baseball celebrity. This is a tale of ordinary desire, ambition, failure, and the sacrifices of love that we can recognize in others and in the society at large, and yet there is enough fiction here to allow us to deny the existence of this tragedy in our own lives.

If you love Stoner by John Williams or Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov, Reader, you’ll appreciate the agony of life Bauer portrays here, the quotidian kind, the slow descent into ordinariness that we all must confront, whether we accept it or not. The Beckoning World is as much a tale of the world beyond our borders as it is the world within our constraints that we cannot escape. The call is not always one to adventure, but a tether.

That is not to say this novel lacks adventure for it does not, it has adventure in buckets. The Beckoning World is also a coming-of-age journey, tracing that phenomenon’s mental and physical challenges and explorations. There is a real adventure here — and the kind of fantasy that some of us only dream of. Reader, you’ll live vicariously through Henry’s eyes, live through the fantasy of childhood — his and perhaps your own.

It is hard to pinpoint what The Beckoning World is about for to outline its plot captures only a small part of its appeal. Its characters are the real attraction here: Earl, Emily, Henry, Babe, Gehrig, Walsh, Lottie, Rooster. They are manifestations of persons in our lives; flawed and perfect. Bauer develops them with succinct, incisive prose that, in silences, invites the reader’s imagination to participate. Bauer captures our investment quickly, and Reader, you’ll be rewarded quickly; the story moves at a steady pace even as it lingers in some moments longer than others. Like Williams and Nabokov, novels of that mid-20th century period, Bauer’s prose is the sort I enjoy: narrative, descriptive (but not overly so), structured.

The novel is set in Midwest America in the early 20th century. There is a pastoral quality to it, one that is generic, recognizable, comforting. This element of the novel is cast in a sepia light, historical and still otherworldly: this is a time and place lost to us and only visible through a veil of nostalgia. It begins with Earl, a young man from the Midwest who — like many of us — is faced with the choices of adulthood and responsibility. Emily, a young woman from the same rural background must make the same decisions, balance desire with practicality. The result is Henry, who becomes the central focus of the novel and who is the focus of the great baseball adventure that ensues.

Through a fantastical encounter with baseball, Babe Ruth, and Lou Gehrig and a journey across the country Earl and Henry come to terms with their loss, life, and future. This is a bildungsroman of the American kind.

A highly enjoyable, thoughtful read. The Beckoning World is a wonderful addition to the genre of the classic American novel.

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