Maybe the most surprising thing about the suspense novel, The Fan by Peter Abrahams is that you don’t have to know about baseball (or even sports generally) to enjoy this book. The human qualities brought to life in this story of an obsessed baseball fan and, his counterpart, the million-dollar batter, supersede any focus on sports. Instead, it is the tale of two men, one a sports god (Bobby Rayburn) for whom playing baseball comes effortlessly, and the other is a more familiar person, the sports-star wannabe who lives for the game (Gil Renard). What makes the book sing, however, is the obsessed fan’s gradual slide out of control, as his personal life deteriorates at the very same time it intersects with that of superstar Rayburn.
The fan, Gil, lives his life through the prism of his sports addiction. Divorced, living alone, and a job as a salesman pushing a product he doesn’t believe in, Gil is nearing the edge of sanity. When a opening day ballgame with his young son conflicts with a job-saving sales appointment, it all begins to crumble underneath him. Gil can’t hold the day (much less his life) together, but even that is no longer foremost in his mind. Instead, he’s focused on the Sox (a deliberately vague baseball team, with no home city specified) and their new star, Bobby Rayburn, who seems to be in a slump right out of the gate.
As the fan begins to imagine he can change the team’s pattern, he takes more and more risks, living a life outside reality even as he gains increasing access to Rayburn. Where it will all end is the point of the story, and author Peter Abrahams keeps readers guessing with the twists and turns of this highly charged suspense novel.
Abrahams also takes us into the less-than-superstar life of the multi-million dollar phenomenon Bobby Rayburn. Bobby just wants to play ball, but something is blocking his mojo, and he can’t see the ball, even though the eye doctor assures him there’s no physical problem. At the same time, it becomes increasingly clear that various people (including his sleazy manager, cheerleader wife, reporters, other players, even fans) all want a part of him, while offering up nothing in return. Few have his best interests at heart.
As the two men—fan and superstar—find their lives interconnecting, the stakes get even higher. The foreshadowing that Bobby has been anticipating all along seems to come to fruition as the fan takes more and more desperate measures to do what he thinks will help Bobby and the team win. The final flourish on the part of the fan is a natural progression into madness, but it comes as a shock all the same.
Abrahams has written a stunning book about the frailties of humans and the dangers of living in a world of fantasy, whether it’s about the past and what could have been or an undue illusion about the importance of a game. Whether you’re a sports fan or just an observer of the human condition, this book has a lot to say that is well worth reading.