The Cactus League (FSG)
An explosive, character-driven odyssey through the world of baseball from Emily Nemens, the editor of The Paris Review
Jason Goodyear is the star outfielder for the Los Angeles Lions, stationed with the rest of his team in the punishingly hot Arizona desert for their annual spring training. Handsome, famous, and talented, Goodyear is nonetheless coming apart at the seams. And the coaches, writers, wives, girlfriends, petty criminals, and diehard fans following his every move are eager to find out why—as they hide secrets of their own.
Humming with the energy of a ballpark before the first pitch, Emily Nemens' The Cactus League unravels the tightly connected web of people behind a seemingly linear game. Narrated by a sportscaster, Goodyear’s story is interspersed with tales of Michael Taylor, a batting coach trying to stay relevant; Tamara Rowland, a resourceful spring-training paramour, looking for one last catch; Herb Allison, a legendary sports agent grappling with his decline; and a plethora of other richly drawn characters, all striving to be seen as the season approaches. It’s a journey that, like the Arizona desert, brims with both possibility and destruction.
Anchored by an expert knowledge of baseball’s inner workings, Emily Nemens's The Cactus League is a propulsive and deeply human debut that captures a strange desert world that is both exciting and unforgiving, where the most crucial games are the ones played off the field.
Praise for The Cactus League:
"[A] quirky first novel . . . [The Cactus League] showcases a fascinating gallimaufry of characters who swirl around the edges of the springtime ritual . . . Nemens finds a kind of attenuated hope along with melancholy in these sharply etched character studies that “end not with ‘out three’ but ‘out maybe.’'" --Booklist (starred review)
"[An] insightful debut . . . each character is brought to life in convincing detail . . . this debut entertainingly illuminates people and problems usually overlooked in the sports pages." --Publishers Weekly
“Emily Nemens's magnificent debut is a masterwork of great empathy and detail, uncovering the realms of incredible pain and beauty enmeshed within every level of America's pastime. If you love baseball, you won't put it down, and if you don't love baseball, you might by the end.” —J. Ryan Stradal, author of The Lager Queen of Minnesota and Kitchens of the Great Midwest
“A debut? You’ve got to be kidding.The Cactus League reads like the work of a seasoned novelist. The way the story’s tension ramps, the richly drawn characters, the indelible imagery—you’ll never see a ball park the same—not to mention Emily Nemens’s knowledge of America’s pastime is downright encyclopedic. And while all those things are true, absolutely true, the heart of this amazing novel is Emily’s understanding of the crucibles faced by those both in the limelight and out of it. Goodyear and the rest of the gang are a cast for the ages. Hip hip hooray for this achievement.” —Mitchell S. Jackson, author of Survival Math: Notes on an All-American Family
“The Cactus League is not just another baseball novel. I can't think of another book that so carefully examines the complex ecosystem of professional sport. With both compassion and objectivity, Emily Nemens deftly depicts the rich lives and stories that swirl beneath the ‘meaningless’ innings of spring training.” —Chris Bachelder, author of The Throwback Special
“Emily Nemens gets beneath the image—the macho chewing, spitting, ball fondling, the studied nonchalant distraction—to the real people on the field and off. She's a true fan, and one hell of a writer. The Cactus League is crisp, clean, funny, and just plain good. If you love baseball, and fiction, you'll love this book." —Brad Watson, author of Miss Jane
Emily Nemens is the editor of The Paris Review. She was previously the co-editor of The Southern Review. Her work has been published in Esquire, n+1, The Gettysburg Review, Hobart and elsewhere, and she is the author of The Cactus League.
Author Photo by James Emmerman
J. Ryan Stradal is the author of the New York Times bestseller, Kitchens of the Great Midwest, which won the 2016 American Booksellers Association Indie's Choice Award for Adult Debut Book of the Year, the 2016 Midwest Booksellers Choice Award for debut fiction, and the 2016 Southern California Independent Booksellers Association award for 2016's top novel. His second novel, The Lager Queen of Minnesota, was an instant national bestseller. He likes books, wine, craft beer, root beer, and peas.