In Herder’s (The Second Coming of Jesse James, 2014) fine new novel, tension flares on the Freiburg High School baseball team when a girl becomes the starting pitcher.
This charming, fun novel features a cast of eccentric Missourians and centers on two pitchers—hapless George Seibenmann and feisty Ruth Hannon. George’s family is a bunch of overweight ne’er-do-wells, but George is bright and ambitious, applying to Caltech to study physics and wanting to, as Theodore Roosevelt said, “dare mighty things.” Ruth chops off her “famous” long hair after it causes problems on the field at her first practice, but the enigmatic young woman proves that she’s a force to be reckoned with when she nearly strikes out the team’s best hitter. However, George must reckon with another force: chaos, which reigns throughout the story, as small gestures have huge effects, and thoughtless deeds have unintended consequences. The Seibenmann family members’ lives have always been dictated by forces beyond their control—bad economies, Parkinson’s disease, war. George’s life swirls with the chaos of college admissions, baseball season—and his love for Ruth. His struggle drives this novel forward, but Ruth never quite comes into clear focus, even as some of the minor characters do. Her presence looms large, but her personality remains vague; as a result, readers may have difficulty relating to George’s attraction to her, aside from the fact that she’s a good-looking, talented female and he’s a red-blooded American male. Otherwise, this is a complex, self-aware book; for example, at church, George thinks, “This was a high school baseball game between two rinky-dink towns. No one else cared, not even in the next county. Certainly, Almighty God had issues of more pressing concern.” But soon, even he gets swept up in the fervor, singing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and chanting “All the way to State!” It’s a beautifully scaled moment, typical of the novel, which, like its protagonist, is smart and full of feeling.
A funny, poignant novel that shows how baseball and love exist in a realm beyond reason.