Serious sports novels often fall through the literary cracks simply because of the arena they play in. Michael Shaara earned his battle stripes--and a Pulitzer Prize--for The Killer Angels, a fictional resurrection of the Battle of Gettysburg, as serious a subject as a writer can confront. Yet, it's no more profound, in the end, than the personal dilemmas protagonist Billy Chapel faces in this, Shaara's final novel, found stashed in a desk after his death and published posthumously.
A certain Hall of Famer, Chapel is a major-league anomaly, a contemporary throwback to another sporting era. He's pitched 17 stellar seasons for the same club, and his love of the game has remained paramount; neither money nor fame has been his motivation. But on the single day this story takes place, he finds himself in crisis. At the crossroads of his life, his career, and his future, he must make the hard choices that will define the direction of the rest of his life. It's the end of the season, his team's out of contention, there's a rumor he may have been traded, and the woman he can't fully acknowledge that he loves announces she's leaving him. It is, as he tells himself, "Time to grow up, Daydreamer." Still, he dreams, but he also acts. As Billy takes the mound for his final start of the year--and maybe forever--we enter his stream of consciousness, and rush with him over the sometimes treacherous rapids of what has preceded this moment, and what may come. Amazingly, though his mind seems to wander through time, his concentration is fierce. Pitch by pitch, inning by inning, he remains focused, honoring his job and his legacy as he pitches a masterpiece of mythic proportion, ultimately leaving the field more a man than when he took it. Using baseball to sound the depths of human experience, Shaara delivers a masterpiece, as well. --Jeff Silverman [via]