“Drawing Card,” by Dorothy Seymour Mills. McFarland. 265 pages. $25 trade paperback.
Sitting down with a new book by Dorothy Mills is always a rewarding experience. In her latest, she mixes two of her areas of expertise – historical fiction and baseball history – to provide an unusual and provocative novel. The protagonist, Annie Cardello, is a young woman of Sicilian heritage whose youthful passion is playing baseball.
Readers will be familiar with the common meaning of “drawing card,” a person or attraction that lures people to a place of entertainment. In her short career in baseball, Annie Cardello, her last name shortened to its first syllable, earned the nickname “Drawing Card” as she was skillful and colorful enough to be a drawing card for her team and for her sport.
Mills’ portrait of teenage Annie adroitly playing women’s baseball in a Cleveland area industrial league is vivid and exciting. The character’s enthusiasm is delightful. However, in fictional Annie’s time there was far less of a future in this kind of athletic pursuit than there is today. She had no place to go with her talent. No way, that is, to be true to herself.
The man with the power to open professional baseball up to women, Judge Landis, would not honor contracts between female athletes and the clubs and leagues he ruled. It’s easy to think that if had ruled in favor of women players, it would have been smooth sailing for the best of them. Of course, it would not have been. However, Annie takes the judge’s ruling hard. She swears vengeance. She feels that something within her has died.
Ms. Mills carries Annie’s life forward through the years of the Great Depression and the decades that follow. She marries into an upper-crust family, primarily to be in a position to support her own family. However, her husband, John Smith, turns out to be an uncontrollable abuser. By the time that they make a trip to her ancestral homeland of Sicily, Annie needs to be free of him – and she manages to manipulate his demise. The years that follow are ones of subservience to the influential Smith family and of mounting frustration. They are also years in which self-justification and guilt war within her.
Late revelations about money left for Annie without her knowledge only complicate her situation, as that money is owed to someone who would threaten her life and the lives of those around her to get what he wants.
Annie’s personal story is set into larger contexts in various ways. The most risky is the author’s decision to include time travel. We meet earlier incarnations of Annie’s competitive feminist spirit in ancient Greece (as Demetra) in the late Middle Ages (as Demona) and protesting the first modern Olympics held in 1898) (as Stamata). This is an interesting way of universalizing Annie’s dilemma, but it takes attention away from Annie herself. . . .
To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the May 30, 2012 Fort Myers Florida Weekly, the May 31 Naples edition, and the June 7 Palm Beach Gardens/Jupiter edition, click here: Florida Weekly – DrawingCard 1 pdf and here: Florida Weekly – DrawingCard 2 pdf