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The Cactus League

A Novel

Emily Nemens


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ISBN10: 1250785766
ISBN13: 9781250785763

Trade Paperback

288 Pages



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Jason Goodyear is the star outfielder for the Los Angeles Lions, stationed with the rest of his team in the punishingly hot Arizona desert for their annual spring training. Handsome, famous, and talented, Goodyear is nonetheless coming apart at the seams. And the coaches, writers, wives, girlfriends, petty criminals, and diehard fans following his every move are eager to find out why—as they hide secrets of their own.

Humming with the energy of a ballpark before the first pitch, Emily Nemens's The Cactus League unravels the tightly connected web of people behind a seemingly linear game. Narrated by a sportscaster, Goodyear’s story is interspersed with tales of Michael Taylor, a batting coach trying to stay relevant; Tamara Rowland, a resourceful spring-training paramour, looking for one last catch; Herb Allison, a legendary sports agent grappling with his decline; and a plethora of other richly drawn characters, all striving to be seen as the season approaches. It’s a journey that, like the Arizona desert, brims with both possibility and destruction.

Anchored by an expert knowledge of baseball’s inner workings, Emily Nemens's The Cactus League is a propulsive and deeply human debut that captures a strange desert world that is both exciting and unforgiving, where the most crucial games are the ones played off the field.


Praise for The Cactus League

"There are probably more good novels about baseball than any other sport. More bad ones, too. Emily Nemens’s The Cactus League definitely belongs in that first lineup . . . But what really sustains the book is not so much the interweaving as Nemens’s capacious, cleareyed understanding, which goes way beyond that of the casual fan, and her evident sympathy for her characters . . . in The Cactus League she provides her readers with what amounts to a miniature, self-enclosed world that is funny and poignant and lovingly observed."—Charles McGrath, The New York Times Book Review

"[Nemens] demonstrates deep knowledge not only of baseball but also of American desperation . . . Nemens makes us care about even the worst of [her characters], a neat trick of unsentimental empathy and a testament to the power of careful, almost loving, observation . . . With her sharp eye for the details of unremarkable lives, Nemens at times reminds one of Joan Didion, and her Southwestern dreamers . . . For a book about the notoriously languorous sport of baseball, this is a quick and often thrilling read. For a debut novel, it’s remarkably self-assured."—Kate Tuttle, Los Angeles Times

"A panoramic portrait . . . Nemens’s adoration of the game is infectious, and her novel is packed with winning details."—Karen Heller, The Washington Post

"[Nemens] works within the quirky register of the heart, writing about one of her great passions: baseball. She crafts a humorous and emotional novel about a star outfielder, and the coaches, fans and criminals who inhabit the same off-kilter world."—Cody Delistraty, The Wall Street Journal

"Nemens delivers an engaging, eccentric cast of players, coaches, families, and others who inhabit the world of baseball . . . From start to finish, Nemens captures the spirit of the game."—The Millions

"[A] wise debut . . . [The Cactus League speaks] strongly to baseball's enduring vitality. The home runs and strikeouts may be background noise, but they're ubiquitous all the same. They've defined this community—its heartbreaks, its victories, its changes. They've created a world."—David Canfield, Entertainment Weekly

“Emily Nemens's magnificent debut is a masterwork of great empathy and detail, uncovering the realms of incredible pain and beauty enmeshed within every level of America's pastime. If you love baseball, you won't put it down, and if you don't love baseball, you might by the end.”—J. Ryan Stradal, author of The Lager Queen of Minnesota and Kitchens of the Great Midwest

“A debut? You’ve got to be kidding. The Cactus League reads like the work of a seasoned novelist. The way the story’s tension ramps, the richly drawn characters, the indelible imagery—you’ll never see a ball park the same—not to mention Emily Nemens’s knowledge of America’s pastime is downright encyclopedic. And while all those things are true, absolutely true, the heart of this amazing novel is Emily’s understanding of the crucibles faced by those both in the limelight and out of it. Goodyear and the rest of the gang are a cast for the ages.”—Mitchell S. Jackson, author of Survival Math: Notes on an All-American Family

The Cactus League is not just another baseball novel. I can't think of another book that so carefully examines the complex ecosystem of professional sport. With both compassion and objectivity, Emily Nemens deftly depicts the rich lives and stories that swirl beneath the ‘meaningless’ innings of spring training.”—Chris Bachelder, author of The Throwback Special

“Emily Nemens gets beneath the image—the macho chewing, spitting, ball fondling, the studied nonchalant distraction—to the real people on the field and off. She's a true fan, and one hell of a writer. The Cactus League is crisp, clean, funny, and just plain good. If you love baseball, and fiction, you'll love this book."—Brad Watson, author of Miss Jane

"A novel about baseball and how it shapes the lives of athletes as much as the town that supports it—and a beautiful one at that . . . Like the best sportswriting, this bighearted, finely observed novel is about far more than the game."—Kirkus Reviews

"[An] insightful debut . . . each character is brought to life in convincing detail . . . this debut entertainingly illuminates people and problems usually overlooked in the sports pages."—Publishers Weekly


Read an Excerpt


Audrey and Michael Taylor have been traveling all day, since before the sun rose on their daughter’s snowed-over Milwaukee suburb. Now, late afternoon, Michael directs the cabbie from Sky Harbor and Phoenix’s loop freeway...

About the author

Emily Nemens

Emily Nemens is the author of the novel The Cactus League, which was a Los Angeles Times bestseller, a New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice, and was named a Best Book of 2020 by NPR. She was previously the editor of The Paris Review and the co-editor of The Southern Review. Her work has been published in Esquire, n+1, The Gettysburg Review, Hobart and elsewhere.

James Emmerman

Emily Nemens

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