I’m a baseball fan, though it’s not necessary to be one in order to enjoy this novel. It’s a breezy read. There’s no reason to be intimidated by its 500 or so pages. It took me a while to get going, I admit, as the opening sections seemed too familiar. They reminded me of John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meaney. (Indeed, Irving praises the book on its cover; big surprise – he wrote it first.) But once the key baseball moment happens, the book takes its own direction. The book is evocative, the campus politics are interesting. There are some well-drawn characters, though I’m not sure we need another male novelist who doesn’t write women very well – the suffering and sexual Pella got to me after a while. The ending veers off into a certain amount of unbelievable moments, but I’m willing to forgive Harbach – for whom this is his first novel – his ending.
In the end, though, I’m not sure what this all adds up to, what Harbach is after here. It’s a generally well-told story, but reading it felt like Chinese food. An hour or so later, I was still hungry.