Reading Russell Rowland’s novel “High and Inside” feels like watching a horror movie. The foolish, tortured youth hears a growling behind the door of the old house and, compelled, inches down the hall to see what’s there. I’m pleading, “No, don’t do it! Leave it alone!” But, of course, he does do it, and the monster is loosed.
Pete Hurley is our tortured youth, and Pete’s dragon is booze. His drinking has cost him his baseball career, his relationship with the woman he loves, and his best friend. He comes to Montana to build a house near Bozeman, where his sister lives with her family. The move is not so much to make a clean break as it is because he doesn’t know what else to do with himself.
Referred to in the press as the “Robert Downey of baseball,” he soon gets in a bar fight with one of the locals and lands on the wrong side of Bozeman’s good ol’ boy network that dishes out building permits and inspections. Afterward, Pete muses, “My jaw feels as though it’s been jarred loose from its anchor. It makes me happy.” He is “much more comfortable with a punch in the jaw than a tender touch.” His sister tiptoes around the problem, asking him to “Please try not to drink too much while you’re here” because he scares her children. He seems surprised at this.
It isn’t until he meets Leslie, a family advocate attorney who owns the farm next to his building site, that someone calls him on his denial. The pitch that ended another player’s career and subsequently his own, the accident that destroyed his girlfriend’s life, the fights, the enemies, his reputation as the Lindsay Lohan of sports “aren’t problems ... just things that happen to everyone.” When Leslie takes his dog, Dave, and refuses to return her (yes, her) until he promises not to drink for a month, he does promise. But his love for Dave can’t compete with his love for booze, and it isn’t long before he is bombed and blacked out.
It was interesting to be put in Pete’s mind and body, experiencing the tunnel vision and denial of an addict who is out of control but fails to realize it. There is not a dramatic “AHA!” moment, but a gradual awakening as Pete starts to notice that no one around him is without pain. His sister, neighbor Leslie, and even the old boozer who always picks a fight with him in the local bar are worthy of empathy.
Pete doesn’t so much turn the corner as realize there is a corner to turn. No angels sing as he begins to understand himself and others, but the honor in the process makes the journey compelling.