Title: Fontana by Joshua Martino
Publisher: Bold Strokes Books
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Length: 224 pages
Book Rating: B+
Review Copy Obtained from Publisher Through NetGalley
Handsome and charmingly shy, Ricky Fontana may be the greatest ballplayer who ever lived. Hitting a baseball has always come easy for the New York Mets outfielder—his true challenge comes when skyrocketing fame threatens to reveal his deepest secret: Ricky Fontana is gay.
Jeremy Rusch—a tabloid sportswriter hardened by drink and disappointment—follows Ricky Fontana as the young champ aims to break one of baseball’s most treasured records: the 56-game hitting streak that immortalized Joe DiMaggio in 1941. As a rapt nation watches Fontana lash hit after hit, creeping toward DiMaggio’s impossible number, the idol of the sports pages becomes an American hero. From the White House to Hollywood, everyone wants to shake hands with Ricky Fontana. And it doesn’t take long for his carefully guarded secret to come to light—thanks to a front-page exposé by Jeremy Rusch.
When he discovers Ricky’s secret, Rusch envisions recognition to rival that of his idol. The reporter’s obsession creates a national furor, turning one baseball summer into a season that nobody can ignore.
Fontana by Joshua Martino is an utterly captivating yet heartbreaking novel about an extraordinary baseball player whose promising career is cut short when he is thrust out of the closet and into the limelight.
Ricky Fontana is the rising star of baseball. His rookie season was nothing short of amazing and expectations for his second season are so high they are practically unobtainable. Could this young ballplayer from Rhode Island break the two long standing records held by baseball greats Ted Williams and joltin’ Joe DiMaggio? Revered by dignitaries and idolized by adoring baseball fans, all eyes in America are firmly focused on Ricky Fontana as he breaks one record and is well on his way to breaking the other.
Jeremy Rusch is an alcoholic sportswriter who is on a downward spiral. He is on the downside of his career when an interview with rookie Ricky Fontana rejuvenates his flailing career. Expecting the same easygoing interviewee from his rookie season, Jeremy is bemused by Ricky’s evasive and almost fearful responses to his questions when training camp begins. As the season progresses, Jeremy’s suspicions are aroused as Ricky continues to evade reporters. With his career in jeopardy and his personal life in shambles, Jeremy stumbles onto Ricky’s secret. In a drunken moment, Jeremy Rusch rationalizes his decision to write a salacious exposé about a man he admires for his own personal gain.
What Jeremy could not and does not anticipate is the incredible backlash and controversy his article will unleash. Homophobia from fans, teammates, fellow ballplayers and even umpires rears its ugly head on and off the ball field. Ricky becomes the center of a heated debate about whether homosexual athletes should be allowed to play in professional sports. Religious leaders and political candidates quickly use Ricky’s sexuality as a platform to push their personal and political agendas.
To his credit, Jeremy is remorseful for his role in Ricky’s downfall and he does attempt damage control. His efforts are commendable but they do not mitigate his fateful decision. Ironically enough, just as he is unwittingly destroying Ricky’s life and career, Jeremy’s professional and personal lives undergo a startling transformation.
Fontana is a beautifully written and moving story that accentuates our fascination with the private lives of public figures. It is easy to forget that stars are often just doing what they love. They do not set out to become role models; it is a role often thrust upon them by an adoring public.
There are many valuable lessons to be learned from this extraordinary novel, and I commend Joshua Martino for bringing them to our attention. This thought-provoking novel should be on everyone’s must read list.