Friday, October 23, 2020

Review: The Index of Self-Destructive Acts

From The Index of Self-Destructive Acts, by Christopher Beha:

Open quoteOn the day that Waxworth arrived in New York to write for the Interviewer, a man named Herman Nash stood on the rim of the fountain in Washington Square and announced that the world was about to end." The Index of Self-Destructive Acts
The index of self-destructive acts is a baseball statistic developed by Bill James that counts up all the mistakes a pitcher makes that are entirely in his control: balks, wild pitches, errors, etc. There's not much baseball in this novel by Christopher Beha, but there are a lot of self-destructive acts.

Grade: B+

Sam Waxworth developed his own baseball rating system. He went on to develop a statistical model for predicting presidential elections. He used that to wrangle a job in New York working for a major periodical, writing articles from a numerical perspective: data, information, statistics. He was a man on the way up. Herman Nash was one of those wild men on a street corner who predicts the imminent end of the world. Whose world is a subject that Sam ought to have spent a little more time thinking about, or maybe he ought to have just spent more time with his wife Lucy instead of getting involved with Margot.

Margot is the daughter of Frank and Kit Doyle. Margot is on leave from grad school, unable to decide whether she wants to teach poetry or resume her girlhood dream of writing it. Her father Frank is a veteran newspaperman, a fan of the Dodgers going back to childhood. As he aged he became more conservative, losing touch with his readers until he loses his career after making a racist joke in the broadcast booth between innings of a Mets game. Kit is his wife, a multi-millionaire who sells her grandfather's investment firm and retires. The financial crash of 2008 leads to the pressures in her own life. Eddie is the struggling son who served two tours in Iraq and comes home with PTSD and no clear goal in life. He needs no additional pressure.

OK, you know all the main characters now. You also see all the different worlds revolving in orbits that are coming ever closer to each other: baseball; statistics; media, old and new; finance; and end-of-world religion. The novel gives each character his due in separate chapters. One chapter may end with one significant event, only to go back several chapters later and pick up the same event from another character's viewpoint. The threads slowly grow together and the significance of the events slowly deepen. Consequences get more serious. The self-destructive acts begin to pile up. Things get real. Herman Nash's prediction of the end of the world might not literally come true, but it may feel that way for some of the characters.

The story is highly satisfying. The ending works. The writing itself is not fancy. Some have compared this to a Tom Wolfe novel. Beha may have a story the equal of "The Bonfire of the Vanities" but his writing style is no match for Wolfe. Movies based on Tom Wolfe novels always disappoint because of that. Beha's compelling story might avoid that fate.

"The Index of Self-Destructive Acts" is available in Kindle format from the Richardson Public Library.

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