Henry, Mike, Owen, Guert, and Pella are all apart of each other’s lives in ways that are wonderful and beautiful to watch unfold.
Henry is a star shortstop who doesn’t know just how great of a player he is. Mike, captain of the football and baseball teams at Westish College, knows and recruits him to play for their Division III collegiate baseball team. Henry rooms with a star freshman, Owen, who is the recipient of multiple academic awards who has dreams of changing Westish College for the better. Owen must convince college president Guert Affenlight who rose to academic prominence through the study of Herman Melville. Guert’s daught Pella, fresh off the end of stifling marriage, returns home to her father and Westish College. Their lives collide, sometimes constructively and sometimes destructively, and you won’t want to stop watching every collision along the way.
Each character is easy to love and easy to get frustrated with because they are all so real. Harbach does an incredible job of writing them to be characters who rise and fall. We shift focus throughout the book to different characters regularly, so the story never sags. We get glimpses into the important events in these characters lives and we get glimpses into the mundane events in their lives. Harbach makes is clear that life is not all about the massive, life changing events. Sometimes life is about what coffee mug you choose. Sometimes life is about whose feet you trip over. It is all so wonderfully and painfully real.
My favorite part, as a former Division I college athlete, was the descriptions of what college athletics are like. While this isn’t perfect, it’s the closest thing that I have ever seen or read to what my experience was like. The part that hit home the most was Mike’s trip to the doctor. I had to put the book down when the doctor told Mike that if he actually were to do his job, actually run tests and diagnostics, actually order CAT scans and MRIs, that Mike would have to stop playing baseball based on what the results would be. That Mike’s body is so destroyed from doing the things that he loves that he would have to stop prematurely. My athletic trainer told me the same things. So she did what Mike’s doctor did: give me pain-killers (within reason) and find ways of managing. As mentioned before: it was all too real.
“A soul isn’t something a person is born with but something that must be built, by effort and error, study and love” and this book shows that building process moment by real moment.