We must admit we approached this piece about a father and his ill sons with a bit of weariness: another story about suffering children, death, loss. The piece is wrenching.

It’s also beautifully done. The lead sets up poignant themes of chance, gambling and fate. Pollak presents these themes without pushing them (she shows rather than tells). Each subsequent section has a clear purpose. The piece moves with strong pace toward a real sense of destination, a resolution of the questions established by the first section: Will the boy survive? How will he and his father cope with his illness? Who will the boy become? The conclusion is beautifully effective, both passionate and poised.

Throughout the piece, Pollak maintains a detached voice without reducing the deep experiences of the story’s characters. She achieves this detachment by unveiling the story through concrete detail. She chooses material and structures the reader’s experience so that the material, not some cheaply earned device, is responsible for our reaction.

Pollak relies on the authority of detail: She guides us through events with a steady hand and the relaxed voice of one who has done her research. Characters shed a lot of tears in this piece. Pollak reports on those tears, portrays her characters with intelligence and compassion, and tells a very sad story without mawkishness.

Read “The Umpire’s Sons,” by Lisa Pollak

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