Craig Suder, third baseman for the Seattle Mariners, is in an all-around slump. He's batting .198, his son is ashamed of him, he suspects his wife's beginning to look elsewhere, and he thinks he's going crazy. Such problems may not seem unlikely among today's hapless Mariners, but this is fiction: Suder by Percival L. Everett (Viking, $13.50). It's a first novel and a remarkable one.
Craig, who is black, grew up in Fayetteville, N.C., where his mother ran around the streets in summer wearing a winter coat and high-top sneakers, embarrassing the family and drawing the unctuous condescension of a born-again cracker dentist named Dr. McCoy. Craig thinks he's loco himself, and the book shifts back and forth from the often hilarious and always touching events of his childhood to the wildly improbable affairs of his present search for...well, he's not sure what, and neither am I. Dozens of scenes in both locales are imperishable; two of my favorites are little Craig's visit to the dental office of Dr. McCoy, who prays between drillings, and Third Baseman Craig's colloquy with Mariner Manager Lou Tyler while Tyler is seated on his office commode.
Everett's style has the syncopation, flash and improvisational feel of jazz, and, indeed, Dizzy Gillespie makes a cameo appearance, Charlie Parker's recording of Ornithology plays in the background much of the time. Bud Powell is a key character, and a pet of Bud's is named Django Reinhardt, after the jazz guitarist. Another pet—an elephant won on a bet—is named Renoir. Everett likes to play with names. The heroine—I say she's the heroine, anyway—is a 9-year-old white child named Jincy Jessy Jackson, and the last scene occurs over a lake named Ezra Pond. Don't ask me why.
As you can see, there's an awful lot going on in Suder, especially for a book of only 171 pages, and I know I haven't grasped everything Everett is trying to tell me. After you read it. if you think you've got it all, maybe you'll be kind enough to drop me a line.