Columbus Slaughters Braves is another in a long line of baseball books that I’ve read. But it goes beyond the box scores, beyond the paeans to “America’s Game”. Instead it focuses on the relationship between two brothers: CJ and Joe Columbus. The former is the fastest rising star on a late-nineties Cubs team that was going nowhere (as Cubs teams are wont to do), the latter is a little older and much more cynical, bitter and cruel.
With Joe Columbus as our narrator, we’re subject to all the pangs of primal self-doubt as every overlooked brother since Cain. It’s not the most comfortable feeling in the world (especially if, like me, you can think of several dozen ways in which your real life brothers are superior to you), but few of us would go inf or the kind of cruel and silent psychological warfare that Joe perpetrates on his little brother.
What keeps the story readable is Joe’s honesty in the narration. The childhood jealousy and immature disdain is not excused or qualified, it simply is, the way that childish behavior simply is childish. As the book goes on there is no miraculous change. Like an actual person, Joe acknowledges his failings but is torn between the easy act of ignoring it and the more problematic act of changing himself.
You might not like Joe (as a narrator he seems to suspect as much), but you have to respect the honesty of the character as well as the unflinching commitment of author Mark Friedman to writing a work like this. Though the plot hits some familiar and occasionally melodramatic notes, accomplishing the tricky task of a difficult but compelling protagonist makes it notable.