This book has been on my radar since it was published last year. I know, baseball literature doesn't really seem like it would in the realm of interest for a city girl like me, but the reviews I read assured that this is more about life than baseball. (There is a contingency of Americans who firmly believe, though, that baseball teaches us much about life. To them, I say, 'That's pretty much every sport. Stop pigeon-holing baseball.')
Henry Skrimshander is the best shortstop Westish College has ever seen, and Mike Schwartz is the upperclass man responsible for bringing him to the team. For three years, Mike and Henry train together endlessly, creating one of those athletic bonds where you can watch each other vomit from running too many sprints but never know the other guy's dreams for after college. During Henry's junior (Mike's senior) year at the school, the Westish baseball team is undefeated, and it looks like they may actually win a championship- until one bad throw from Henry turns everyone's year on its head.
Guert Affenlight, president of Westish, begins a dangerous affair with a student, his daughter moves back to town after 4 years in California and seems determined to make a fresh start without her much-older husband, Mike's dreams of life after college seem to constantly be out of reach. Henry develops a crisis of faith- he's never thrown a ball so terribly, and his belief in baseball and himself is wrecked.
Char Harbach has done a masterful job of keeping the pace quick and creating a world within the fictional Westish College (even down to the restaurants in the small town, and its attachment to Herman Melville). At the heart is the question of what to do with your life when you realize that you are not infallible, and plans don't work out as you imagined. It's a great paperback for travel, as it clocks in at 500+ pages for those long hours on a plane. It was hard to put down.
Even for a novel about baseball.