WHITEHALL — USA Today bestselling author Wade Rouse discussed his 2022 memoir, Magic Season, Monday at the White Lake Community Library. The book, named a Michigan Notable Book for 2023, dives into Rouse’s relationship with his late father Ted; the two could not have been much more different, but shared a love for the St. Louis Cardinals, and their 2015 season, a 100-win campaign, proved to be the last Rouse’s father lived to see, as he passed away shortly after it was over.
The book is written using the team’s final game that year — a playoff loss to the Cardinals’ hated rivals, the Chicago Cubs — as a framing device. Rouse and his father watched that game together. Rouse, along with his husband, Gary Edwards, became a caretaker to his father in his final months.
“It’s the most gut-wrenching book I’ve ever written,” Rouse told the crowd of a few dozen who came to witness his discussion. “I’d write a page and have to (throw up). I’d write a page and laugh. I’d write a page and have to leave for five hours.”
It would be easy for a writer to play up their love of a sports team for artistic purposes, but it was clear Monday Rouse is a devoted St. Louis fan. Unprompted and off the top of his head, he knew both the exact disappointing record with which his team began the season — 10-24 — and the exact hot streak it was in the midst of when the week began, having won 10 of its last 13 games.
It’s that affection for the team that enabled Rouse, a self-described “queer kid in a conservative Ozarks community”, to bond with his father, an engineer and quintessential example of an old-fashioned man from the region, despite sharing almost nothing else in common. Rouse said in his book that his love of following baseball began as a way to seek his father’s approval since he was unable to gain it in other ways, but as time passed he genuinely fell in love with the game.
“So many friends my age are dealing with the loss of a parent,” Rouse said. “Sometimes long-distance, sometimes one that they don’t have a particularly close relationship with. I felt compelled to write this book. That’s the only reason I write any book, is because I feel compelled to write it for some reason. I think it changed and saved me, and I hope it does (for) someone else.”
Compounding Rouse and his father’s uneasy relationship, which he said his late mother often noted was adversarial, was the passing of Wade’s older brother, Todd, in a motorcycle accident when Wade was 13. That left Wade as the only child in the family.
“I felt all of this pressure to give him the things that my brother, I think, would have,” Rouse said; he’s written a memoir about that too, called America’s Boy. “A traditional family, a wife, grandchildren. That was a lot of extra pressure on me. My brother was kind of like that Ozarks tough guy. My father had no way to really deal with me at all emotionally. That really made things much harder.”
Rouse, who lives in Saugatuck when not in Palm Springs, California, writes memoirs under his own name and fiction books under the pen name Viola Shipman, in honor of his maternal grandmother. Shipman, whose grandson’s affection is obvious even before one learns the origin of his pen name, worked 10 to 12 hours a day stitching jeans in an Ozarks factory, then came home and sewed for fun. She never finished high school and was poor her entire life, but, Rouse said, understood the value of education and reading, always thrusting books into his waiting hands.
“She believed in the ripple effect, that being nice to others would lead to them being nice to someone else,” Rouse said.
His next book, written under the Shipman name, is called Famous in a Small Town and comes out June 13. (It is set in a fictional place called Good Hart, Michigan, borrowing some imagery from his Saugatuck residence.) He called it his favorite book he’s written to date, noting with almost a tinge of embarrassment that it’s drawn comparisons to the famous novel Fried Green Tomatoes.