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 The madness of war and the passion evoked by baseball complement each other beautifully in this extraordinary first novel, a Civil War saga of a battered Brooklyn company nearing the end of its enlistment. The few survivors of the original company have endured three years of numbing bloodbaths. In the spring of 1864 they march south again, expecting battle but with fewer than three weeks to go as soldiers. Butcher's son Lyman, druggist Louie, grocer Newt, Irish street-thug Tiger, and the others soon come under Rebel fire, an engagement in which Danny, the beloved company sergeant and Lyman's best friend, is killed. With Danny goes the men's respect for authority; lawyer Burridge, their lieutenant, is young and aloof, reading Caesar's Commentaries and dreaming of postwar success. A game of catch while the company is on picket duty, however, turns memorable when a troop from Alabama steps from the woods and challenges Brooklyn to a real game. Led by the brassy Mink, whom Burridge soon realizes is an informant to the South, the Rebels win, and the stage is set for a rematch, during which Mink transmits valuable information. The second game, a Brooklyn victory, leads to three more, undertaken while the battle of Spotsylvania rages around the players. In between are soul-searing assaults and routs, a confusing battle fought through heat and rain, day and night. Each team begins to suspect that its leader is up to more than playing first base. The final meeting between the lines is a hard-fought match, made desperate by the certainty of discovery, after which a great sacrifice is necessary simply to allow the players to leave the field alive. A sensitive, forceful, even breathtaking commingling of play and war, daydream and nightmare, the humane and the bestial, in which the human dimensions of warfare are unforgettably evoked.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-15-100267-3
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1997