* CONTAINS SPOILERS
Blockade Billy is a novella by Stephen King published in 2010. The book also contains the “bonus” novella, Morality, which was originally published in Esquire Magazine a year earlier in 2009. Stephen King is now on Twitter and it’s so tempting to contact him to ask what the rationale was for putting an old-time baseball tale together with the story of married couple who make the worst decision ever. The two novellas are very different from each other.
According to Wikipedia, Stephen King said Blockade Billy is the baseball story fans had asked him to write. In the story, former third base coach, George “Granny” Grantham looks back at the 1957 season of the New Jersey Titans. As a last minute replacement catcher, William “Billy” Blakely joins the team. He’s slow-witted and impressionable, but an excellent player. Granny senses something isn’t right with Billy and suspects him of injuring other players with his tags, but the team warms up to their new catcher and the fans love him, calling him Blockade Billy. The Titans start winning games and Granny keeps his suspicions to himself. However, the team’s good luck takes a turn for the worse when a chilling secret is revealed about Billy; he’s not really Billy Blakely at all.
The best part about Blockade Billy is Granny’s old man with a bit of swagger left in him, sitting on the porch shooting the breeze-type narration which is signature Stephen King. I’m a baseball fan, so while I know some readers didn’t care about the detailed world of baseball we see through Granny’s eyes, I loved it. The story reminded me of summer days, watching the game, eating hot dogs and feeling the energy of the crowd. Yes, I’ll even do the Wave.
Granny is the best character because his personality and wit shines through his narration, while other characters remain flat as cardboard cut-outs. Billy himself is dull as a doorknob and because Granny says so many times “something’s not right about Billy”, I waited impatiently for the story to just spit it out. Personally, I suspected Billy was a robot.
Overall, I thought Blockade Billy started out nicely, but then falls flat with the central plot surrounding the horrible truth about Billy Blakely. I would have been happier if Stephen King wrote a story without even a whiff of the macabre. A story for baseball fans by a baseball fan.
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I had no expectations about this story and no prior knowledge of what it was about other than the title. But wow, Morality really kicked me in the butt mentally for a few days.
Nora and Chad Callahan is a married couple with money problems, but they still hold onto the hope of realizing their dreams. In the meantime, Chad works as a substitute teacher and Nora works as a nurse for a retired reverend who is confined to a wheelchair and recovering from a stroke. One day, Reverend Winston tells Nora he wishes to commit a sin before he dies. He tells Nora he wants to commit a “sin by proxy” and offers her $200,000 if she will do it for him. Nora and Chad struggle to make a decision. Their immediate instinct is to say no, but they can’t stop thinking about the money. Agreeing to the proposal, Nora is shocked that the Reverend simply wants her to punch a child in the face. A strange request that Nora carries out in terror and Chad nervously videotapes. The Reverend is satisfied with the results and is not surprised when Nora quits after she receives the money. The Callahans take the money and move away, but a breakdown of their emotional and spiritual lives has already started and leads to the destruction of their marriage.
Morality is such a short story, but man does it pack a punch! Nora and Chad don’t kill anyone, but by agreeing to Reverend Winston’s proposal and accepting his money, they might as well have sold their souls to the devil. Reverend Winston takes such great delight in what Nora has done, I’m surprised he didn’t cackle with evil laughter as she tried desperately to get away from him. What Nora and Chad have done weighs on their conscience so heavily, it poisons them from the inside out. They turn on each other like wild animals. They blame each other and hate themselves. Watching this normal couple unravel and become completely lost and broken individuals was stunning.
Morality is a great example of Stephen King’s talent as a writer and for digging deep into our psyches and all the dark places we don’t want to think about. The story was so disturbing, I think it would be weird to say I liked it. Instead, I will say I was deeply affected by Morality and I will never forget it.
Are you a Stephen King fan? What’s your favourite book or story?