The Ringer tells the story of Patricia Maestas, the Mexican-American wife of a Mexican immigrant killed by police, and Ed O'Fallon, the officer who shot her husband, whose sons end up playing in the same competitive youth baseball league in Denver.
"Shank's first at-bat as a novelist is a hit." - Kirkus Reviews
"An entertaining and suspenseful tale with a compelling climax." - Library Journal
"Shank debuts promisingly with this dramatic story that barrels toward a well-handled climax." - Publishers Weekly
"Newbie novelist Jenny Shank knocks it out of the park with her first book, The Ringer." - 5280 Magazine
"The Ringer is a quintessential American story that deftly and compassionately examines the nuances of race, culture, and religion in contemporary society—and it does so with heart, wit, and playfulness." - Image Journal
Advance praise for THE RINGER
"This is a story in which two families from the opposite sides of town, from opposing cultures, are forced together because of violent death, and one of the things that saves them is baseball. Amazing! And it's even more amazing that Jenny Shank (or any other writer) can pull this off and make us believe it—and keep us reading to the final out."
- Kent Haruf, National Book Award finalist and national best-selling author of Plainsong and Eventide.
"The Ringer is a compelling read with a clever plot, taut construction, and—best of all—boundless empathy for all its complicated characters. Jenny Shank’s as good at moral conundrums as she is at mysteries, as good at police psychology as she is at baseball, as good at her male characters as she is at her females. This is an auspicious and exciting debut."
- Valerie Sayers, author of Brain Fever and Who Do You Love
"Jenny Shank has written a gritty, beautiful novel about growing up in urban America. Two decent, hard-working families share a love of baseball and the same city streets, which should be enough to unite them. Instead a police raid goes wrong, shots ring out, and the families find themselves marooned on opposite sides of a racial divide. Shank insists the reader consider both points of view, with startling results. Her characters are beautifully drawn and you feel as though you’re watching life itself unfold in these pages."
- Helen Thorpe, author of Just Like Us
"Every first novel has the potential to seize the interest of a wide readership when it combines these elements: a young baseball player seeking solace on the field for the loss of a father killed by police in a botched drug raid; a veteran Denver police officer (and baseball coach) scarred by a life-ending and life-changing split-second decision; and the women-mother/widow and the wife-who seek to move forward with their lives. Add to the mix a fragile history of urban ethnic discord, rivalry and then unity in a common pursuit, and the fact that no truth ever remains hidden. The result is an entertaining and suspenseful tale with a compelling climax. For diamond fans and those who enjoy a well-written contemporary novel.-G.R."
"Salvador Santillano dies on the shabby bedroom floor of a suspected drug lair, shot by Ed O'Fallon, a police officer: a by-the-book SWAT raid at the wrong address.
More died that day than an innocent man. Gone is reconciliation between the hardworking Santillano and his dedicated wife, Patricia, a nurse. Patricia has been dismayed by Salvador's unbending attachment to his family in Mexico, and his refusal to stop sending money there. The shooting also may have killed O'Fallon's career. It certainly wounded his emotional stability and his family life. And then there is the city of Denver, with Hispanic activists suspecting the shooting was racially motivated. Shank gets into the head of the hard-charging police officer and uncovers his anxieties, and she draws Patricia as a proud woman fearful that her pride contributed to Salvador's death. That death and its aftermath are the bricks of the story, but the game of baseball drives the narrative. Both families are involved in youth leagues. Ed has been relegated to girl's T-ball because he grew too intense coaching boys. However, his sons, Jesse and E.J., play on a championship team, and Salvador's son, Ray, is a coveted pitching prodigy. As the season progresses, Ray, using his mother's maiden name, ends up pitching as a "ringer" for the O'Fallon boys' team in state and regional games. Patricia realizes early that the O'Fallons are involved, but she realizes too that baseball, Salvador's passion and Ray's love, might save her son from being seduced into street-gang life. Ray's precarious hold on his own emotions falters when he discovers the man who killed his father watching from the bleachers. While some may think O'Fallon deserved one more chapter, considering the depth of his transformation, the author carries her novel to a believable conclusion, with skillful tightening of the emotional tension along the way.
Shank's first at-bat as a novelist is a hit."
"Good writing is about making the right choices. In The Ringer, first-time novelist Jenny Shank displays an unerring sense of direction while steering her book through rugged emotional terrain with a deft touch and obvious skill…She succeeds by avoiding the cheap plot devices, emotional pandering, and easy answers that plague even more seasoned writers. Instead, she delivers an excellent novel in her first at bat." - Eric Hevenor
"Shank debuts promisingly with the dramatic story of two families upended by an accidental police shooting. Denver police officer Ed O'Fallon is wracked with guilt after he guns down a man during a drug raid; Patricia Maestas, meanwhile, is instantly made a widow and single mother. Their narratives are equally engaging: as Ed's marriage buckles under the weight of his feelings of guilt, Patricia struggles to keep her 12-year-old son, Ray, out of trouble. What keeps Ray off the streets is baseball--the same sport Ed's sons are devoted to. When an investigation reveals the warrant for the fateful raid had the wrong address, Patricia and her family become a symbol of the wrongs suffered by the Latino community. The novel comes to a full boil after Patricia and Ed discover one another's identities through their sons' baseball teams…The narrative finds its groove…and barrels toward a well-handled climax."
"Newbie novelist Jenny Shank knocks it out of the park (pun intended) with her first book, The Ringer. The dramatic story, set against the backdrop of a Little League championship, follows two Denver families from different cultures--opposing teams off the field, but teammates during the game--who are forced to deal with the tragic repercussions of a deadly mistake. Shank has a knack for writing prose that's both artful and detailed, and is bound to have a rewarding career as a novelist: This book was a semifinalist for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award." - Anna Bergquist
"Shank’s portrayal of O’Fallon is compelling and believable. She builds a tight, palpable tension between him and his wife as he tries to keep it together after the shooting. And the author shines when talking baseball, as in this scene about Ray: 'Then the ump told him he had three pitches left and he started to throw heaters, pitches that whistled into the catcher’s mitt with a snap. You’d need a real right fielder for this kid, someone who could sprint well enough to snap foul pop-ups — you couldn’t use it as a filler position because if any right-handed batter managed to make contact they’d likely be behind it and send the ball off down the first base line.'
Ray, with his dead father and his dreams of baseball, emerges as the most compelling of the characters. You can’t help but root for him."
"The novel seamlessly weaves the two characters' tales together through alternating chapters, highlighting their respective emotions as division engulfs the city… It's a compelling story that explores cultural and economic divisions, even as it makes clear they can be bridged through the most unexpected of circumstances."
"I'd like to recommend The Ringer. It's a new novel by Jenny Shank, it's her first novel. It takes place in contemporary Denver. It's the story of two families. One is the family of a police officer who kills a man in a no-knock raid—they've gone to the wrong address and an innocent man is shot down by the police. It's the story of the two families, what happens to them, how they end up meeting through their sons' baseball. It's wonderfully written, and you really see a lot of Denver in it. She knows Denver well, and there are a lot of landmarks in it that you'll recognize, and there's also a lot of baseball. So if you're a baseball fan you'll enjoy reading this one. It works very well because it deals with true life and with what families do and how they carry on after tragedy, and it's a really beautiful story."
"As good as Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding is (and I wrote a blurb for it which started with the word “spectacular”), The Ringer may be even better. Like Harbach’s Fielding, baseball serves only as a framing device for this promising debut about such durable American themes as race, class, and family."
"The Ringer by Jenny Shank is a fine first novel and a great read for fans of baseball, presenting fast-paced action with lots of heart thrown in…As it reaches the explosive climax, this skillfully paced story presents a superb balance between a driven plot and the deeper connections underlying vengeance, anger and redemption.
In addition to creating a gripping set of events, Shank asks us to consider that, in the end, passion, commitment and heroism can apply to parenthood and the career of a dedicated policeman as well as to baseball. In this affecting novel, there is no such thing as a routine play." - Kate Manley
"The Ringer is an exciting, intellectually challenging, and altogether worthwhile effort." -Mark Schraf
"Jenny Shank’s debut novel, The Ringer, honors a great American pastime: baseball. Baseball is present to comfort, save, or even—in the greatest moments of need—convict Shank’s characters when religion fails to do so. Ed O’Fallon, a middle-aged father of three, has been demoted to coaching his daughter’s tee-ball team after parents complain about harsh tirades delivered while coaching his older sons’ baseball team. He now spends Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays trying to convince the six-year-old Purple Unicorns to spend less time picking dandelions in the outfield and more time running laps and fielding grounders. Meanwhile, Ray Maestas, a twelve-year-old pitching phenomenon, is struggling to make sense of his father’s recent murder by Denver police. In an attempt to keep him off the streets and out of trouble, his mother, Patricia, moves him from the local Catholic recreational league to one of the most competitive teams in the city, where the protection that both youth and baseball once afforded him quickly fades. Shank’s narrative offers a sophisticated rumination on the meaning of childhood, the persistent heartache of parenting, and the saving graces of young bodies in motion. “That was the thing with kids,” notes Patricia. “They were so much more than merely the qualities of one parent added to those of the other. [They] were relentlessly their own people, capable of surprising [us] on any given day.” The Ringer is a quintessential American story that deftly and compassionately examines the nuances of race, culture, and religion in contemporary society—and it does so with heart, wit, and playfulness. But Shank shows baseball to be more than a game. In this novel, it is a way of celebrating—and at times grieving—that awful, inescapable, and ever-surprising feat of being human."
"The crack of a baseball ringing off a bat and the crack of a bullet leaving a gun intersect in Jenny Shank's debut novel The Ringer, one of the best overlooked books of 2011."
"Shank's novel is a solid, well written, and enjoyable summer read, especially for fans of baseball…and homesick Denverites."
"The novel uses two of Denver's great obsessions —baseball and immigration—to explore how a community can resolve conflict."
"Jenny Shank is a terrific writer who creates a complicated story based upon a true story. Shank has won an impressive list of awards and this debut novel will be only the first in what will certainly be important contributions to her readers' enjoyment."
"Shank refuses to whitewash her characters' flaws, but empathy infuses her portrait of two good people."
"The Ringer is many novels in one. It is a great Baseball Novel, Police Novel, and Community Novel. Her Denver, with all its rivalries, passions, and physical beauty, is reminiscent of Balzac’s Paris. She can switch from the macro to the micro with precision and grace. This is a big novel filled with tiny literary flourishes. These flourishes come together with her compelling believable characters, characters one would meet at the supermarket or at some random school or community event. With passions running high across the globe, it is refreshing to read a novel that shines a light on contemporary problems, yet examines these same problems with ordinary people."
"Jenny Shank is a god. I say this largely because I agree with a sentiment she expresses in the late innings of her debut novel, The Ringer: an understanding of the “hidden connections between everyone” is “knowledge only a god should bear.” Despite this warning, however, Shank attempts throughout her novel to mirror the kind of knowledge that might otherwise be restricted to the divine. What’s especially amazing is that the author succeeds wildly in her attempt, and in so doing, she demonstrates the unique power of the novel to make gods of us all by illuminating the connections our habitual minds tend to miss.
The Ringer is told from the perspectives of two characters: Ed O’Fallon and Patricia Maestas. Their fates become intertwined when Ed, a police officer, kills Patricia’s husband in a botched drug raid. From Ed’s perspective, the shooting was a terrible mistake that places him in the center of a political firestorm, puts his job in jeopardy, and plunges him into a deep depression. For Patricia, the killing means that she’ll not only have to raise her children on her own, but also that she has no choice but to assume the role of a figurehead in a racially charged battle with city hall. To complicate matters, Ed and Patricia both have sons who play in the same baseball league, and when their paths inevitably cross, each can’t help but eye the other with suspicion and dread.
The true miracle of Shank’s novel is that she manages to tell her story from two distinct and very different points of view without ever favoring (or disfavoring) either. Instead, Shank encourages us to sympathize equally with both protagonists and, in so doing, effectively gives us two perfectly interwoven novels of heartache, uncertainty, and a modicum of triumph. Indeed, the exquisite agony of reading the novel is knowing the truth — that both parties are hurting, that both parties are under immense pressure from all sides not to be the first to blink, and that, in a better world, both parties would confront each other directly rather than losing themselves in the machinations of forces beyond their control. This, after all, is the great irony of the human condition in postmodern times: despite all of the means we have of communicating with each other, something always gets in the way. We are, Shank suggests throughout the novel, social animals bereft of true society, yet we do our best to make the kinds of connections — human and personal, if tentative and limited — that make our lives worth living.
An astounding debut." - Review by Marc Schuster
The Ringer won the 2012 High Plains Book Award in fiction, was a finalist for the 2011 Reading the West Award, sponsored by the Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association, a semifinalist for the James Jones First Novel Fellowship and a Top 100 Semifinalist for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.
Here's a 2008 article about The Ringer that appeared in the Rocky Mountain News. (Back then, the book was called Mile High.)