Prospero Stark was once a baseball phenom. But after a stint in jail, he changed his pace, opting to live in an airstream trailer park in the Arizona desert. It’s there that he receives a gruesome package … the severed hand of his former catcher. This is the jumping off point for Leo Banks’ novel, "Double Wide," the focus of this month’s Southwest Book Review. KNAU’s Mary Sojourner has more.
Whiplash Stark once struck out A Rod and Jeter in the same inning. Then, there was the coke bust, his dad's arrest for murder, and now he is the scraping-to-get-by landlord at Double Wide, a collection of scruffy Airstreams and trailers in the desert near Tucson.
His life jolts into a potential last inning when he finds a package containing a severed hand tattooed with the name Mary and a carefully inked portrait of the Blessed Virgin's face. Whip knows who the hand belongs to. Rolando Molina, his catcher … and his close friend. He knows what he has to do.
In “Double Wide,” Leo W. Banks, award-winning western historian and Tucson writer, has done what he has to do: write skillfully and with deep love for the Arizona desert and his characters. Whip Stark, his beloved black labs, Chico and Bundle; his non-paying tenants, Opal, Tohono O'odham run-away; Cashmere Miller, only slightly addled shade tree mechanic and sharp-shooter; Charlie O'Shea, a sweet lush with a fondness for Hawaiian shirts, are joined by fast-mouthed TV reporter, Roxane Santa Cruz in a race against drug cartel evil to find out who killed Rolando. Banks knows baseball and police work. He knows the worlds of the desert women, men and kids who live under the radar of entitled society—and he writes that world without sentimentalism or judgment.
He writes about alcoholism and addiction with near-surgical understanding—and kindness. He writes about professional baseball with the same merciless grace. I'm not a baseball fan, but I found myself at 3:30 a.m. riveted by Banks' account of a decisive game, in which Whip pitches not only for his own pride, but for his imprisoned father and to expose the reality of corruption within the sport.
I am a devoted fan of the Southwest's deserts, towns and beleaguered cities. Leo Banks devotes as much of his craft and deep perception to the setting of “Double Wide” as he does to his plot and people. Here is the desert outside Tucson: "I reached a meadow overlooking a huge expanse of the San Manuel Valley. The hills were burned and brown where the meadow fell off, and they flowed steadily down into deep canyons that made the ground disappear, and towering stone ridges that brought it back again." And here is Tucson: "Oracle Road was loud and clogged. I passed a sales lot brimming with new cars and blowing flags … parked cars, cars moving an inch at a time, brake lights shining, horns blaring." If you know that desert and that city, you'll know that in “Double Wide,” Leo Banks has done them justice.