After he gets home from work, 56-year-old accountant J. Henry Waugh entertains himself with a simulated baseball game based on dice rolls and probability charts. As a kid who spent many a rainy summer afternoon playing Strat-O-Matic baseball, the concept was very familiar to me. However, unlike Strat-O-Matic, Henry’s game involves an entirely fictional league. All the teams and all the players on them are his invention. When he plays he rolls the dice for both teams and meticulously records every play on his scoresheets. Henry’s charts are extremely detailed and allow for as much complexity as the real thing. Players get hits, make errors, and even suffer injuries based on the total Henry rolls.
At the book’s start, Henry has been doing this for a long time. He’s played over fifty full seasons of UBA action, meaning many of his players are the sons or even grandsons of their previous incarnations. He’s invested the league with an entire history of ups and downs, personality conflicts and political strife. It’s obsessive behavior and something Henry keeps a closely guarded secret from the few friends he has.
But then an incredibly unlikely sequence of rolls ends in an on-field tragedy that sends Henry’s life and the league into a spiral. As he goes about his daily life in the real world, the league keeps on intruding. In an astonishing literary feat, Coover is able to weave between Henry’s reality and that of the league in increasingly complex ways with alienating the reader, perfectly capturing the fracturing of Henry’s mind.
As Henry’s life and the league start to unravel, he has to make a choice. Will he take more control over his own fate and that of the league? What will it look like if he does?
A deeply philosophical book about the nature of creation and a remarkable portrait of obsession, this is a novel that works on multiple levels.