This is one of the rare ones where I race to the finish the first time, just to find out what happens, and then immediately go back and start sections again, just to savor the prose. Understand me: I wouldn't call this "literary fiction," exactly--it's too real-world and action-y for that label, I think. But the language SINGS in places, sailing a high, hard one past you at times or giving you a low, dirty slider at others. Beautiful, beautiful book. I can't believe it's a debut novel. (The 1 star off is because the midsection of the book drags just the teeniest bit, and some of the goings on are a little over-the-top.)
This is the story of:
--Henry Skrimshander, a shortstop with infinite potential who's recruited by a small private Divison III college that has never won a championship
--Mike Schwartz, team captain, informal scout, and leader of men, who thinks he's going to apply for law school
--Guert Affenlight, president of the college, an academic who's struck by love late in life
--Pella Affenlight, Guert's daughter, who's returned home after a failed marriage and is now a bit adrift
--Owen Dunne (the Buddha), Henry's gay roommate, teammate, and partner in crime, who Has a Secret
For the first third of the book, Henry is becoming the best shortstop who's ever played the game, tying his idol's record for error-free games and getting scouted by the big leagues. It all goes wrong with one throw, though, and the rest of the book covers the fallout as the team heads for the playoffs for the first time in the college's history.
This book works on many levels: the classic everything-hangs-on-the-last-game sports story; the small-town isolated college pressure cooker; young adults learning about themselves in relationships; the stamina required in the drive to be the best; academic bullshit; and sports politics, among others. I'd heartily recommend this book for baseball junkies (male AND female), those who root for underdogs, fans of small towns (especially in the Midwest), and those nostalgic for their college days. This book hits all these bases, and more. Home run.