From Publishers Weekly
From his room in a nursing home, the narrator of this spellbinding novel looks back on his youth as a pitcher on a Midwestern regional baseball team during the Depression. No ordinary team, the players treat each other as equals and decline to have a manager. They give away as much of their take from each game as they can to local needy families. But their socialist dream is threatened when, forced to stop at an inn in a Wisconsin snowstorm, a fellow guest tries to lure one of the best players away from the team. The unnamed narrator weaves the story of that night with his memory of his love affair with Nancy, a waitress in Binghamton, circling around as he steadily reveals that these were the pivotal events in his life. This isn't a happy story, but it's an engrossing, satisfying one.
Starred review: The Racine Robins don’t have the fanciest uniforms, play with the best equipment, or enjoy the most luxurious accommodations, but they’ve always felt good about the entertaining service they provide. As a traveling baseball team that raises money for local soup kitchens and striking workers, they’re deeply aware of the impact the Great Depression is having on small towns across the Midwest. An appreciative fan decides to treat the team to dinner when a freak April snowstorm waylays the Robins at a posh Wisconsin hotel, but the wealthy benefactor ends up having a much bigger impact on the club than anyone expected. Fans of Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding
(2011) and Joe Schuster’s The Might Have Been
(2012) will appreciate this new addition to baseball fiction, as first-novelist Moraff’s obvious love for the game is evident in his impassioned descriptions of the sport and its trappings. Moraff enlists the team’s best pitcher to serve as narrator, and some well-placed flashbacks and a twist of romance save the novel from sports-centered monotony. Reverent and nostalgic without being mawkish or sappy, It Happened in Wisconsin
, winner of the 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, is a paean to the populist cause, the colorful characters of Depression-era baseball, and the enduring power of idealism.