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Let’s Go Read: The Resisters

A new dystopian novel places baseball at the forefront of the struggle

The Resisters is a baseball book unlike any other reviewed for Let’s Go Tribe. It’s a baseball book, sure, but it’s also a dystopian novel, a coming-of-age story, an anti-corporate screed, and a warning about what happens when we give up our privacy in the name of convenience.

The story follows a young mixed-race girl named Gwen, who is gifted with a prodigious arm. Throwing things from birth, she is destined to be a baseball player. Growing up in the United States of AutoAmerica to a parents that have had their ability work usurped by machines, however, means that her life among the Surplus citizens on undesirable land or on AutoHouseboats is spent consuming products from the Netted citizens — those fortunate, fair-skinned, souls whose work continues — in order to earn living points and stay in the good graces of “Aunt Nettie,” the artificial intelligence that governs life in AutoAmerica.

But Gwen’s parents, as the title suggests, are resisters. Her mother is a lawyer, fighting on behalf of the Surplus from within their ranks, and her father, the narrator, is a former schoolteacher who spends his time tinkering with technology to defeat the surveillance state around his family. That tinkering and resistant spirit leads them to create the Underground Baseball League.

In a society so utterly controlled by technology, it’s no surprise that the league cannot stay secret from Aunt Nettie for long, despite Gwen’s dad’s impressive hacking. But when the consequences of their organizing are unraveled, Gwen’s baseball prowess offers a lifeline. The questions that proceed are whether the lifeline to the Netted world is worth the costs, and as Gwen gets deeper in that world and her parents get deeper in their resistance, the stakes get higher and higher.

The Resisters is akin to literary forebears like George Orwell’s 1984 or Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, but less apocalyptic than either. As ominous as it can be — and one of author Gish Jen’s greatest strengths as a writer is conveying a persistent sense of dread — it retains a sense of optimism, the kind which fuels any resistance. To the end, which I won’t spoil here, there’s a sense that these characters can persist with their resistance and, perhaps, succeed.

All that makes The Resisters much different than most baseball books, but perhaps the biggest difference is the most obvious: Can you name another baseball book written by a woman?

There are good examples out there, such as Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Wait Til Next Year or Molly Lawless’s Hit By Pitch, but not nearly as many as there are baseball books by men or as many as there should be. Professional baseball might be a game dominated by men, but women enjoy the game as much as men, and they play the game, they coach the game, they analyze the game; thus, it’s rather silly they aren’t represented in the literature as well.

I didn’t want my review to be solely about the fact The Resisters is written by a woman, and I consciously chose not to lead with that fact. But it’s important to note, and it’s important to the book itself. The only fiction pick in the brief history of Let’s Go Read, The Universal Baseball Association, could have really used a woman guiding hand as an editor or just giving notes; I’m certain it would have been much better, much less troubling, if it had. Because The Resisters doesn’t just give a woman the starring role, it offers a viewpoint that we don’t often see when baseball is in the spotlight.

Although Jen wrote from the perspective of the father, and some things (e.g., parental anxiety) are universal, the way she’s able to paint the relationships between the girls in the book and between the lovers in the book has a distinctly feminine touch. By which I mean it’s more believable. For example, when he was a guest on Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me, John Grisham talked about how men should never write love scenes because they’re terrible at it; however, if you’ve ever read his work you’d think that maybe men should avoid writing about anything even remotely sexual.

In The Firm, for example, Grisham spends way too many words describing the way a woman’s breasts hang in a bikini and it’s pretty gross. By contrast, in The Resisters, Jen describes the parents’ relationship after the mother’s life has been altered by Aunt Nettie: “To see her vulnerable was horrifying and yet not as horrifying as the realization that I liked the closeness is brought—even that it made for better lovemaking. Sadder but stronger.” There’s so much emotion conveyed in that sentence, so much intimacy, that any physical description of sex would be gratuitous.

Which is not to say that The Resisters is a perfect book. The dystopian setting, for example, has so many details that are important to the reader’s understanding that are rushed into the opening of the book. Because the story is a baseball story and a story about a family and their relationships, it makes a certain amount of sense that the backdrop should not be a big focus, but that does not mean all the futuristic jargon like “StarGored” or “GonadWrap” make immediate sense to the reader without more description.

Likewise, after the rushed introduction, the novel is 90% rising action and has just the briefest denouement. The climax of the novel is really fantastic, it’s engrossing and paced well and has a worthwhile payoff, but the text ends so quickly after the climax that readers might still be catching their breath when the words run out.

Despite its shortcomings, The Resisters is a very good read and one that I’d recommend. It checks boxes for so many kinds of readers: baseball fans, fans of dystopian stories, readers who worry about technology creep, and so on. In addition, it offers a different viewpoint, one that could really be a benefit to unfamiliar readers. And that could make it an important read, as well.