Thursday, July 2, 2015

"Cardboard Gods," by Josh Wilker

If Tarot cards can divine the future, Josh Wilker has learned to decipher the past through baseball cards.

The past this thoughtful author returns to in “Cardboard Gods: An All-American Tale Told Through Baseball Cards,” is primarily that of those free and chaotic 1970s during which he assembled his sainted collection.

Wilker's story is autobiographical and told through baseball cards pasted into the book. His childhood was spun beneath the umbrella of some rather 70s-like experimental parents – a mom, a dad, and the guy mom lived with – who moved out into the Vermont wilds in an attempt to “get back to the land.”

The other man, Tom, learns how to become a blacksmith and this is part of the family plan for generating income. It never occurs to them that nobody needs a blacksmith in 1970s Vermont.

The dad is mostly absent, though complicit in the living arrangement and an important source of income for the hippie pioneers.

It's not normal and it's not stable to the young boy and in his baseball cards does he find the structure and the kind of deities he needs to nourish his own growth, illusions and dreams.

As the years go on, his ability to read the cards for pasted-on uniforms and the desperate performances behind optimistically presented statistics becomes practically analytic and the cracks in the deities begin to appear, much the same time as the family's agricultural project starts going under.

The author leaves the family yarn time and again, tying the faces on certain cards to events the marked the madcap decade in which he comes of age. For example, a card of the famed White Sox team that played a game in shorts is used to conjure up the famous “Disco Sucks” rally that turned old Comiskey Park into a rock-n-roll riot.

It's all woven into a worthy whole: his personal path, the nation's course, and the fate of the cardboard gods render a fun, yet deep, remembrance of the time.

Wilker is member of Red Sox Nation who grew up with a particular fixation on Carl Yastrzemski. But the facts that he write so well and that more California Angels cards appear than any other team in his cool “objet d'art” are enough to forgive the transgression.

Maybe it's that the Angels players make the best fodder for the tragicomic, moving assessments Wilker does of the journeyman and the man too-soon-forgotten.

“Cardboard Gods” is fine book.