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Heart of the Order


Heart of the Order

Winner of the Virginia Prize for Fiction and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Fiction

A novel of passion and obsession, Heart of the Order is the story of Danny ("Kiss of the Wolf") Bacigalupo, a baseball player from the alleys of Chicago's North Side, whose life and career are shaped by a tragic childhood accident.

Danny knows about guilt from the stern Irish women in black hoods and floor-length robes, but their words don't move him -- not until the death of Mickey Meenan. It was an accident: A line drive off Danny's bat collided with young Mickey's Adam's apple. Danny manages to shake the accident, but he can't shake the presence of Mickey. Even after fourteen years of pro ball he doesn't know whether he's Mickey or Danny, a swinger for the fences or a player who hits safely.

A magic realism informs the novel and takes the form of a monologue from a father to his son. The book's first half focuses on the love between Danny and another memorable outsider, Grace Jankowski -- the fat girl with the beautiful eyes. The second half reveals the tough world of minor-league baseball and Danny's friendship with a black shortstop named Book Johnson. Throughout both sections of the novel, baseball becomes a personal crucible as Danny struggles to find himself and a single identity.

Novelist David Bradley, winner of 1982's PEN/Faulkner Award, praised "the wisdom and humor of the novel's narrative voice and the stylistic risks that have transformed this straightforward story into art." A section of the novel appeared in TriQuarterly magazine; it has also been awarded the 1985 Virginia Prize for Fiction, and has won for the author a major fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Tony Ardizzone was born and raised in Chicago. He is the author of In the Name of the Father and The Evening News, which won the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction. Heart of the Order establishes the author as a major novelist in a class with Bernard Malamud and Mark Harris.

Henry Holt and Company jacket copy

Jacket design by Richard Mantel

HEART OF THE ORDER
Henry Holt and Company * August 1986 * ISBN 0-03-008503-9


Reviews

The Philadelphia Inquirer review of Heart of the Order, by Tony Ardizzone.
"Finding the Tragedy Lurking in the Ballpark," copyright © 1986 by The Philadelphia Inquirer, September 21, 1986. Reviewed by John Hough Jr.

Danny Bacigalupo can say it: "In my day I was quite a ballplayer." So he was. He disciplined himself to play the hot ground balls at third. He never caught hold in the major leagues, but Danny, a natural spray hitter, had his moments in the high minors: "I was on three championship teams, won a batting title, once was league MVP."

From the time he was a kid, Danny ached to excel, to climb up out of the rough, sad streets of Chicago to glory. So he studied the game, practiced going to his right, and even in pickup games in the alley "swung for the apple with every ounce of my might."

In fact, the hunger that drove him nearly ruined Danny's career -- did ruin it in a way. Still in grammar school, Danny was playing ball in the alley when he powered a line drive at Mickey Meenan, an eccentric and sickly little kid. The ball crushed Mickey's Adam's apple, killing him where he stood. Danny had gone with the pitch, which is the way to hit. Excellence suddenly reeked of sin. Heavy baggage for a ballplayer to lug through life.

Heart of the Order, which won Tony Ardizzone the 1985 Virginia Prize for Fiction, turns the balletic game of baseball inside out. Ardizzone's game is not the timeless escape we are used to in our literature and those carefree hours at the ballpark. Here, the game is deceitful in its beauty: an Eden hiding tragic surprises. Between the foul lines, the plaintive soul of Mickey Meenan hovers. A sweet base hit can be lethal. The nut in the grandstand may have more up his sleeve than epithets or rotten eggs. Heart of the Order is baseball as crucible, the old apple as forbidden fruit.

Danny tells his story to his son, who enters it halfway through, the surprise result of a forgotten encounter with a minor-league groupie. The father is setting the record straight. His story is both confession and love letter. To confess, to love, are to expiate, and Danny has wrestled all his life with guilt.

Even before his line drive killed Mickey Meenan, the nuns at school had filled Danny with their stories: "We were told that, as Adam swallowed, the lump of apple caught in his throat and remained there, a constant reminder of our evil, sinful nature. . . . Evil was in our throats, in our world, even under the foot of the Blessed Virgin."

Danny will learn otherwise, eventually. "Our nature isn't to be evil," he can proclaim. "Our nature is to be better." Guilt blinds us to these simple truths. Guilt shadows Danny in the form of schizophrenia. Guilt is whiskey and marijuana. But the nuns never talked about love, and love is redemptive. Enter Tip, Danny's son, left in a basket on a lumpy battlefield in a run-down park in Class A.

Ardizzone walks a fine line between mythology and realism. We can smell the garbage in Danny's boyhood alley. His father is a former labor organizer and socialist whose thinning body and dour ideas are worn out; we can hear his leaden voice and smell the staleness in his skin and clothes.

The baseball, in between acts of God, is the real thing and plain wonderful: "The ball slapped the sleepy grass and sped towards me in a blur to my right. Directly down the line, a sure double or triple. Third's a reflex position, son. Without thinking I cross-stepped, my glove stretching past my chest, reaching for the ball as I'd reached for it a thousand times in my basement. My glove stabbed it as it flew over the bag."

But are we to take literally the death of Mickey Meenan? And what of Danny's later line drive off the Adam's apple of a first baseman named Adam Double? Danny's high school sweetheart -- he will love her again -- is the grotesquely fat Grace Jankowski. Grace is full of grace. Her blues eyes are clear and beautiful, windows to her soul. Grace is a walking allegory, lower than life.

This division, the real and the mythic, zig-zags like a fault line down the middle of Heart of the Order. We have to keep pausing to check our bearings. Which side of the line are we on?

Even so, it is a remarkable journey. Ardizzone writes with razor-sharp beauty. There's an electricity, an excitement in his prose. Heart of the Order is upbeat but never trite, an honorable novel about love, decency, and redemption. As they say on the old diamond, Tony Ardizzone can play some.


Sports Illustrated review of Heart of the Order, by Tony Ardizzone.
"A Splendid New Baseball Novel Will Make its Readers Laugh -- and Think," copyright © 1986 by Sports Illustrated, November 24, 1986. Reviewed by John Harvey.

For better or worse, any "serious" baseball novel will be measured against the late Bernard Malamud's The Natural. Happily, Tony Ardizzone's new baseball-drenched allegory, Heart of the Order, belongs in the same league.

As the coming-of-age story of Danny Bacigalupo, a third baseman from working-class Chicago, Heart juggles several major themes. Danny has to cope with a stern, uncommunicative father, the classic conditioning of a Catholic education, and the psychological trauma of having killed a playmate, Mickey Meenan, during a game of pickup ball. Baseball becomes Danny's salvation, providing a set of standards and rituals to follow.

As Danny moves up through the minor leagues towards a starting role for the Denver Dynos, a major league team, he becomes convinced the spirit of his childhood victim has moved into his body. (And Yankee managers think that they're in for second-guessing.) The ghost of Mickey Meenan retains the personality of an 11-year-old who wants to swing for the fences on every pitch, yet lacks the nerve to man the hot corner, baseball's most infernal assignment.

Helping Danny keep both of his tops screwed down tight is Booker (Book) Johnson, a black shortstop also on his way to the big time. Book is an exemplar of player behavior both on and off the field, introducing Danny to wine, women and song as well as the finer points of the cutoff position.

Major fireworks are in store before the end of Bacigalupo's playing days and the start of his second career as a scout. Suffice it to say that guilt, grace, freedom and redemption all take their place in Heart's sometimes dizzying but frequently dazzling narrative.

Ardizzone's nonstop stream of comic but revealing baseball metaphors elevates dugout chatter to something approaching poetry. This is one of the rare books that can make you laugh out loud, all the while scoring some serious points about the games that really matter.


USA Today review of Heart of the Order, by Tony Ardizzone.
Copyright © 1986 by USA Today, August 14, 1986. Reviewed by Reid Cherner.

With Heart of the Order, Tony Ardizzone has carved his niche among writers who have written great baseball fiction. Ardizzone's hero is Danny "Kiss of the Wolf" Bacigalupo, a baseball player from Chicago's North Side with "blood on his bat." In an open letter to his son, Danny recaps his life and explains how an accidental death, guilt, Catholicism, amnesia, a good glove, a good level swing, and the love of a fat woman with beautiful eyes can shape a life. "Because even a rookie knows that when the ballgame's over you walk up the runway to the light." Ardizzone's book is part comedy, part tragedy, all baseball.


Library Journal review of Heart of the Order, by Tony Ardizzone.
Copyright © 1986 by Library Journal. Reviewed by Rex E. Klett.

In this lively monologue addressed to young son Tip, former professional baseball player and current major league scout Daniel Bacigalupo contemplates his youth and coming of age in Chicago. Profoundly influenced by the accidental death of a neighborhood kid during a ball game (one of Danny's line drives struck him in the Adam's apple), Danny "suffers" the schizophrenic presence of the dead boy throughout high school, the minor leagues, and major league baseball. Bacigalupo's story begins with a flippant, jocular tone; however, it quickly hits a comfortable, engaging stride, describing the thrills, agonies, and occasional epiphanies of growing up Catholic, Italian, poor, and naturally athletic. Not as acerbically witty as Dan Jenkins's Life Its Ownself, but more fully comprehended and human. Recommended, especially for baseball fans.


San Antonio Express-News review of Heart of the Order, by Tony Ardizzone.
"Baseball Story Also Journey of the Mind," copyright © 1986 by San Antonio Express-News, October 19, 1986. Reviewed by Dan Goddard.

Baseball as a metaphor for life has been a popular literary theme recently. Joining the line-up is Tony Ardizzone's Heart of the Order, an amazing and redemptive tale of magic realism.

Growing up in the alleys of Chicago's North Side, Danny ("Kiss of the Wolf") Bacigalupo has his whole life changed during a childhood stickball game when his line drive collides with Mickey Meenan's Adam's apple and kills the gawky dreamer.

Mickey, however, eventually returns from the grave to become part of Danny's consciousness, almost wrecking his plans to become a professional ballplayer. He doesn't know whether he's Mickey or Danny, a swinger for the fences or a player who hits safely.

Ardizzone's story is something of a double-header. The first part is about the adolescent Danny's attempts to come to terms with life after the accident which marks him as a killer and an outsider. Rejected by his classmates and every girl he asks to dance, Danny settles for another outcast, Grace Jankowski, a girl with beautiful eyes whose golden heart is surrounded by acres of fat.

Heart of the Order is told by Danny to his infant son sitting on his knee, an awkward device which allows some often instructive moralizing.

But midway through the novel, Ardizzone throws a strange pitch. During confession, his coach helps Danny come to terms with the past by telling him, "Your purpose in life might be to play the game for this dead kid."

Pretty soon, Danny is convinced that Mickey dwells within him. And they fight for control of his body during a tough season of minor league ball. Mickey wants to play first base, while Danny is an all-star third baseman.

The novel's second half concerns Danny's hardscrabble minor league days and his attempts to find himself and a single identity.

Ardizzone takes a rather straightforward story and turns it into a metaphysical journey of the mind. His writing fuses into a marvelous blend of magic realism and blue collar reality during the last half of the novel which effectively dramatizes the falling away of traditional values during the 1960s.


Fra Noi: A Monthly Journal of Italian American Life review of Heart of the Order, by Tony Ardizzone.
"A Pennant Winner," copyright © 1986 by Fra Noi: A Monthly Journal of Italian American Life, September, 1986. Reviewed by Fred L. Gardaphè.

"In bocca al lupo," Italians say when they are wishing someone good luck before going off to an exam, a contest or other adventure, and it means, "In the mouth of the wolf." The response is "Crepi il lupo," -- May the wolf die.

A second novel requires all the luck that legends says a phrase like that can bring. For Tony Ardizzone, the wolf did die, for Ardizzone has succeeded in bringing us a wonderful tale of hope and finding one's place in life. And luck has nothing to do with it at all.

What we could very well have in Heart of the Order is the Italian American answer to Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Malamud's The Natural -- all rolled into one fine novel.

Ardizzone has managed a triple play. His creation of an exciting voice (taking the form of a father-to-son monologue), a story that keeps pages turning, and indelible imagery combines all the ingredients of excellent story telling.

Protagonist Danilo Bacigalupo, son of Italian immigrants, brother of many, grows up on Chicago's North Side. In a game of alley baseball he hits a line drive that changes his life. The shot results in Mickey Meenan's death and the adoption of Mickey's spirit by Danny.

The post-World War II Chicago street life is beautifully described. The wisdom of parents is wonderfully portrayed. Adolescence is hard to live through and even harder to write about, yet Ardizzone keeps us thinking of our own and laughing all the way. The rise and fall of a ballplayer is done in a way that has never before seen print.

There are enough twists and turns in the plot to keep you wondering what will happen next -- a trick only a good novelist can keep fresh. There is also a continual breath of magical realism that sustains the dream state that good fiction must create. This is done most masterfully through the right amounts of exaggeration and experimentation.

Ardizzone gives us passionate characters who are realistically motivated to surreal heights.

In the Name of the Father, his first novel, was just warm-up tosses compared to the force behind his latest work.

It is easy to see why this novel won the 1985 Virginia Prize for Fiction, why Ardizzone's latest efforts have netted him a major NEA fellowship, the Flannery O'Connor Award for his short story collection The Evening News, and why we can expect good things from this young Italian American writer.

Ardizzone is proof that Italian American writers are worthy of large audiences. This year's most valuable player in the novel area could very well be Tony Ardizzone. Bravissimo.


The Virginian Pilot and Ledger Star review of Heart of the Order, by Tony Ardizzone.
"Baseball Books Are Big League," copyright © 1986 by The Virginian Pilot and Ledger Star, August 10, 1986. Reviewed by William L. Tazewell.

Baseball is the literary sport. While I cannot prove the point statistically, I suspect that more books have been written about baseball than all other sports together. (Here I mean organized professional sport, not activities involving horses, or hunting and fishing, or games such as chess -- which has its own vast literature, much of it seemingly written in code insofar as it is intelligible to the non-chess player.)

Baseball's factual literature ranges from the reverent (the chewing gum histories of individual teams, the biographies of the diamond's faultless heroes) and statistical (the baseball encyclopedias and all those yearbooks) to the antiheroic (books where ballplayers have bad habits, like Jim Bouton's Ball Four, or the histories that hint that Babe Ruth's Olympian tummyache was a social disease) and adult non-fiction such as Jim Brosnan's bullpen memoirs or E. J. Kahn's The Boys of Summer with its elegiac harmonies that touch a chord deep in the American (male) psyche.

There's a lot of baseball fiction written at the Horatio Alger level -- I once had an entire shelf of Baseball Joe books in the best Frank Merriwell tradition. But the game has also fascinated a number of serious and talented writers -- Robert Coover, Mark Harris and Bernard Malamud are among those who come immediately to mind.

Baseball has a kind of mythical quality that is adaptable to fictional uses. Thus it is only natural that the middle-aged man who sells his soul to the devil should be reincarnated as the baseball great Joe Hardy, instead of a quarterback or a basketball player. I don't know why this should be so. I suspect it has something to do with the fact that the average American boy grew up with baseball, either playing the game or secretly wishing he did, though this fact of life may be changing in the generation nurtured by television.

Furthermore, I'd guess it has something to do with baseball's interior rhythms and sense of time. It is a game of intervals, a meditative sport where nothing happens much of the time. It's not a game of violence, yet it isn't as inert as cricket or as solipsistic as the game of golf. It's the game of long summer twilight, and it has the same sort of timelessness as Huck Finn on his raft or Lewis Carroll spinning a story for Alice, all in a golden afternoon. Baseball bespeaks the values of the 19th century, rural United States -- democracy in the pasture -- and perhaps that is why the game has a kind of mythic quality, or metaphorical usefulness.

Anyway all that kind of seminar-speak is useful in approaching Tony Ardizzone's Heart of the Order, which is about baseball in the sense that the boy's game is the grown-up's metaphor to play with. The first innings of the novel are about Danny Bacigalupo and boyhood in Chicago -- growing up Catholic, Italian and working class in the Eisenhower years. It's an American documentary with an edge and humor of its own:

"Saint Patsy's was a genteel little school located out in the suburbs. Their mascot was a bookworm covered with dollar signs. Their school color was bleeding madras. They joined our conference after JFK formed the Peace Corps, figuring they should visit disadvantaged foreign places too. We hated them because we knew if we were lucky, someday we'd end up working for them."

What makes Danny different is that he kills Mickey Meenan, one of his playmates, by hitting him in the Adam's apple with a line drive. Danny's eight when the accident happens, and the fact that Mickey is a doomed little nerd only serves to make things worse. It's an accident, of course, but it's also a burden of guilt -- original sin, if you prefer -- that the boy has to carry throughout his life.

Baseball is Danny Bacigalupo's ticket to escape from family and home, but Mickey is his personal demon. Danny is a natural as a baseball player, but he's also half-psycho, and the reader who travels with the hot-shot third baseman (and Mickey) on the way to the Denver Dynos and the big leagues is embarking upon a guilt trip that becomes more and more fantastic. The All-American metaphor is stretched to comprehend the counterculture and comes to an explosive end in the fittingly named Mile High Stadium; I'm not going to reveal the final plot twists and spoil them.

The entire story is told by Danny, who is looking back upon his baseball career, and his listener is the son he sired somewhere in the bush leagues of Dixie, the baseball equivalent of the heart of darkness. Ardizzone controls his narrative with superb technique, using baseball as the metaphor to deal with living and dying, loving and forgiving. The reader who begins Heart of the Order expecting Howard Cosell, maybe, shouldn't be surprised to come out in the rough terrain which is being mapped by the likes of Tim O'Brien in American fiction nowadays. Tony Ardizzone is a good guide, too. He gets my vote as the Most Valuable Player on the faculty at Old Dominion University.


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