The New Rules of the Game

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I
don’t read much fiction, so I was disinclined to read the manuscript
of a new novel that arrived in the mail a few months ago. I’d never
heard of the author. But the story was set in my home town, Ypsilanti,
Michigan, and I gave it a try, expecting to be bored after a chapter
or two.

I
found myself still reading it in the wee hours. It was one of the
most emotionally grueling stories I’d ever read. But as soon as
I woke up in the morning I had to finish it. The author asked for
my endorsement; after reading it, I wanted to give copies to all
my friends. It was that powerful.

The
book, Blind
Baseball: A Father’s War
, has now been published by AuthorHouse
in Bloomington, Indiana. It’s not about baseball; it’s about a divorce,
and much more. The title is an odd but apt metaphor explained late
in the book. The author, Allen Green, writes with such passion it’s
tempting to believe the tale is autobiographical, but it isn’t.

The
story’s hero, Barry Ballinger, has, to say the least, a troubled
marriage. His wife, Sal, serves him with divorce papers, empties
their bank account, and spitefully runs up huge debts in his name.
She also means to take custody of their six children. And that’s
just the beginning of her campaign to ruin, humiliate, and utterly
destroy him.

Barry
goes to a lawyer, who tells him that under Michigan’s no-fault divorce
law his chances of getting custody of the children are almost nil.
Originally intended to level the playing field and make the dissolution
of marriage as painless as possible, the law actually has the opposite
effect: It gives women like Sal, who know how to play the angles,
huge legal advantages. It also serves the interests of predatory
men, like the sponging lovers Sal brings into the home once Barry
has been expelled. The horror is that Barry is punished for trying
to be a responsible father.

Sal
is none too bright, but she has a shrewd instinct for power. With
the aid of her lawyer – a "barracuda at law," in
Barry’s phrase – she turns all the resources of the state against
Barry. Through her machinations and false accusations, he loses
his children, his property, his livelihood, his reputation, and
very nearly his sanity. At one point he actually finds himself committed
to a mental institution. He seems to be baffled at every turn. For
a while his situation seems hopeless.

Blind
Baseball is to domestic law what Nineteen
Eighty-Four
is to politics. It vividly shows how bureaucratic
"social services" can be perverted into tools of raw power
over the unsuspecting individual. At first Barry navely assumes
the basic fairness of the system; he is quickly disabused by the
successive hammer-blows of Sal’s cunning malice.

What
makes this more than a mere divorce novel is Green’s grasp of the
systematic nature of the forces Barry faces. Slowly he comes to
realize that he’s up against something more than a flaw in the system:
This is just how the system is designed to work.

But
unlike Orwell’s hapless hero, Winston Smith, Barry is no passive
victim. As he comprehends that the real enemy is much bigger than
Sal, and as Sal herself overplays her hand, he manages to achieve
a limited victory – though only after the turmoil has caused him
and his kids enormous stress and pain.

Many
fathers can attest that Barry’s plight is neither unique nor exaggerated.
The laws, institutions, and state agents that nearly crush him are
real, and this is how they operate in countless cases every day.
Some fathers, despairing of justice under the law, kidnap their
own children and disappear.

The
book isn’t entirely bleak. Barry receives encouragement and wisdom
from his old mentor, Art Smith, who explains that the state is dedicated
to destroying families. The root of Barry’s crisis is the materialist
philosophy that shapes the laws, creating an unnatural balance of
power. Once he understands this, Barry is able to pull himself together
and salvage his and his children’s lives. And Sal’s malignity finally
carries its own punishment.

Blind
Baseball is in the end a comment not only on marriage and divorce,
but on the irrationality of modern law itself. Barry’s bitter wit
adds both wry amusement and sharp insight to a wrenching drama of
the soul against the state.

April
21, 2005

Joseph Sobran is an
author, syndicated columnist, and editor of a monthly newsletter,
Sobran’s.

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