Jenny Shank’s The Ringer was published in 2011, but its themes are still quite familiar. The story gives us an intimate view of two families: Ed O’Fallon, a Denver police officer, shoots and kills Salvador Santillano, an emigrant from Mexico. The events of Ferguson, Missouri, dominate the news today, along with police shootings in New York City, Cleveland, Ohio, and Phoenix, Arizona. It is in this context that The Ringer offers insight, indeed, medicine for us today.
The tragedy unfolds from two points of view. Ed coaches tee-ball and is motivated in his police work by a genuine desire to protect and make a difference in the community. Salvador, we learn after his death, is heroic in the sacrifices he makes in order to take care of his own. Because of the insightful lens through which we are guided through the narrative, we are able to understand each family, both of which are irrevocably changed by Ed’s decision to shoot Salvador.
Ray, Salvador Santillano’s twelve year old son, is one of the greatest pitchers his coaches have ever seen. He plays baseball in the same league as the O’Fallon boys. As the plot unfolds, the two families are forced to confront one another when Ray is picked-up by the Z’s for the state and regional championships. Jesse O’Fallon, Ed’s son, is the catcher for that team.
- Although the two families are unlikely to ever understand one another, the reader is able to empathize with the unspeakable pain and confusion tearing at all parties. We see each of the major characters as deeply flawed, which makes them deeply human. The wounds created by racial division and the shooting are unlikely to be mended in the lives of these characters. Indeed, even the reader is torn by the conflicting loyalties presented by the plot. The Ringer is not an easy story to reconcile. Nevertheless, it changes us. We are changed by our ability to feel empathy for two enemies.