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Customer Review

91 of 92 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Brilliant Allegory of Something or Other, March 28, 2004
This review is from: The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. (Paperback)
The basic story of Coover's book is quite simple. Henry Waugh creates an intricate single-player baseball game that's played with dice. He plays entire seasons with his eight-team league; he keeps detailed statistics for every player and every game; he creates backstories and personalities for his players; he develops an administrative body for his league and imagines political debates among the players; and he acts as an official historian of the league, writing volumes of stories about the game and its players. When something shocking and unexpected occurs within the game, Henry gradually loses the ability to distinguish between reality and imagined events within the game. In the end, he is more or less consumed by his game.
As the synopsis above no doubt suggests, this story begs to be read as an allegory. One might read it as an allegory of God's relation to His creation. Henry, like God, is a creator who appears to have complete control over his creation, and yet, like God, his creation comes to take on a life of its own. When terrible things occur, he desperately wants to step in and set things right, but he also wants the game to retain its integrity. So Henry is like God in that he remains outside his creation even though it seems he could sometimes intervene to set things right. (Indeed, some of the game's players are said to have some sense of a higher power controlling their destiny.) One might also read Henry's relation to his game as an allegory of man's attempt to make sense of his world through art, religion, science, philosophy, etc. All that's really going on is the random event of rolling the dice, as, in some sense, all that's really going on in the universe is certain random physical events. And yet Henry imagines an entire alternate reality to make sense of the random events of his game. His player backgrounds and psychologies, his historical interpretations of the game, his imaginings of crowds and stadiums--all of this is intended to give the random throws of the dice some meaning, some significance to him. (This reading is also suggested by our one look at Henry at work in his job as an accountant. Rather than merely crunch the numbers, he reads a story of the operation of a business off his accounting books. He makes sense of the numbers by seeing them as evidence of something beyond themselves.) Finally, one might interpret Henry's relation to his game as an allegory of the artist's relation to his works.
These allegorical readings notwithstanding, it's also possible to read this book as a simple and moving story of one isolated man who gradually loses touch with reality. While Henry seems a decent enough chap, he has no family, only one friend (and not an especially close one), no real love interest, and no interests outside of his game. From what we learn in the novel, it seems his entire life consists in (occasionally) going to work at his mind-numbing job, stopping at the local bar to drown his sorrows, and sitting at his kitchen table playing his game. Since Henry's life is thoroughly dull and uneventful from the outside, the book focuses on what's going on in his mind. The focus of the book is his isolation and his attempts to create something important and lasting and to be a part of something larger than himself. The opportunity to create something important is what the game appears to provide him, and so it's not all that surprising that he ends up losing himself in his game.
This, of course, suggests that Henry can be understood as an example of the way in which alienated individuals can get lost in solitary pursuits that are made available to them by modern life. Because he lacks an community of people with which to identify, Henry ends up getting lost in his game in much the same way that others can get lost in books, television, the internet, etc. All of these things appear to provide their user with a connection to a world beyond himself, and yet total immersion in them brings you no closer to other people than you'd be without them.
I'd give this book 4.5 stars if I could; that seems a more accurate assessment. The reader should note that this isn't really a baseball book. It's more about the trappings of baseball--the statistics, the history, the players, the rites--than it is about the game itself. So this isn't a book for someone looking for a presentation of dramatic athletic feats; instead, it's a book for the baseball fan whose appreciation of the game is intellectual rather than visceral.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 14, 2011 4:44:02 PM PST
railroad guy says:
You know what? That's the best review I have ever read. Seriously ... start a blog or something.

Posted on Oct 17, 2012 2:55:17 PM PDT
J. Santoro says:
Amazing review! Thanks for the wonderful critique. I'm going to purchase the book now. Thanks.

Posted on Apr 8, 2014 6:48:19 PM PDT
This is the greatest review I have ever read, of a book that I have read. I have been telling my friends about this book since the 70's, but your review nails it. My review to my friends did not do the book justice. Nice
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