“I think that the greatest analogy between baseball and writing, or even life, is that the game is designed for its players to fail.”
In his debut collection of short stories, We Are Never as Beautiful as We Are Now, Adam Gallari works his technique like a potter artfully manipulating ordinary clay. Subtle and often profound, Gallari’s laconic style oozes with backstory, hitting the reader in the gut with the bits he doesn’t state, like a baseball smacking into the sweet spot of a catcher’s mitt.
In “Throwing Stones,” the first story, two guys throw stones after losing a baseball game, then go home. Readers who dote on plot will be disappointed, maybe even perplexed, but those who enjoy a challenge will be lured by Gallari’s references to “late August” in this piece about a young player’s angst. In the world of baseball, where a birthday celebration might as well be a retirement party, Frank Bellingham, a pitcher who has dedicated his life to the game, considers his next career move: coaching, hanging drywall, helping out at the cages. Gallari articulates this character’s fears subtly: Bellingham’s girlfriend studies “20th Century History;” the “new kid,” Timmy Farino, whose name reeks of pabulum, is a “gangly mess of limbs” who “looks like he’s just been plucked from a cornfield in Kansas.” The stones, reminiscent of the coins tossed in Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, are talismans of randomness and hope which hold as much power as wishful thinking—but they throw them anyway, asking questions only time can answer.
Baseball is a mainstay of this collection, turning up sometimes in small ways and elsewhere as a story’s main component. Gallari, who played baseball through college and in a semi-pro league in Germany, describes his feelings about the game as a “love/hate relationship” comparing it to “a bad marriage at times.” In a recent interview, he said, “I think that the greatest analogy between baseball and writing, or even life for that matter, is that the game is designed for its players to fail.” His use of baseball as backdrop for these stories does not fail, but one assumes as this twenty-five-year-old writer matures he will come to depend less frequently on the motif. Similarly, all of Gallari’s protagonists are young, unmarried, childless men, and some readers will find themselves wishing the author would throw a curve, or a change-up, by writing about a female character, or a child.
Fans of Raymond Carver will appreciate the minimalist structure of “Good Friend,” wherein the main character wrestles interminably with the guilt of betrayal and the pull of confession. Dave and Matt, the friends to whom the title refers, avoid a difficult subject while they share drinks and small talk; in one of the collection’s finest moments Gallari writes about the bar’s fireplace: “from a distance it looks real, but as Dave approaches it he can see that the flames dance around the log; they don’t engulf it. The log is a piece of steel molded and cast and dyed to look like wood, to give the illusion of burn.”
“Go Piss on Jane” recounts a young man’s visit to a local V.F.W. post where old soldiers convene “to play and to regress and to recapture a youth put on hold or cut short. To relive it for those who never got the chance to experience it in the first place.” Gallari’s V.F.W. Post 9592 is a place stuck in time, where veterans replay Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine movies and retell dusty jokes, including their decades-old habit of urinating on pictures of “Hanoi Jane” strategically mounted on the backs of ice-filled urinals. Gallari’s veterans, like the hall itself, are stuck in places and times that only they know, but that they cannot comprehend. The V.F.W. is their connection to wars they both miss and despise. It is a place where they meet for camaraderie, to lick wounds long since scarred over, and to drink more than they should, a place that offers both solace from and nostalgia for times better off forgotten. This tension suspends the reader between anti-war sentiments and respect for those who have fought for their country, win or lose; Gallari doesn’t take sides, smartly leaving readers to waver between pity and respect, and the absurdity of war.
We Are Never as Beautiful as We Are Now offers nine succinct but dynamic stories in which Gallari poses questions with few answers. Like Hemingway’s stories about bullfighting and fishing, this young author imbues his work with the love of baseball—and often hits it out of the park.