Thursday, January 16, 2020

Book Review: 'The Batter's Box: A Novel of Baseball, War, and Love' by Andy Kutler

The Batter's Box by Andy Kutler

Decisions, choices, alternatives – and survival

Wisconsin native author Andy Kutler earned his degrees from Michigan State University and Georgetown University and gains his insights for this novel from his experiences as an historian, a senior policy officer with the US Secret Service, his political work on the legislative staff of two US Senators, a consultant in the national security community, and his love of baseball. In addition to his two published novels, he has written for The Huffington Post and The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He lives in Arlington, Virginia.

The immediacy of this reflective history novel is so well presented in the opening chapter – a conversation between the main character’s wife Kay and a reporter Mr. Maloney - as Andy slowly opens the door for the fine story he weaves: ‘Maloney leaned forward. “the man [Will Jamison] had it all before the war. An all-star, on top of his game, with money, fame, women. He enlists in the Army after Pearl Harbor. He doesn’t wait until 1943 or 1944 like most other major players. He signs up in January of 11942, a month before Congress declares war. He asks for front-line duty. Wins a Silver Star during Battle of the Bulge. Comes home, and plays well enough to be an all-star again, then just walks away. Never to be heard from again. And he was only twenty-eight years old…I just want to know what makes a man like your husband walk away from everything. And everyone.” “Not everyone,” Kay said.’

And from that suspense-filled opening the novel transports us to June 1942 as Will enters Philadelphia and enlists in the Army and we gradually learn about this man. As the summary states, ‘Will Jamison is a star player with the Washington Senators and enlists in the U.S. Army following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. When the war ends, Jamison returns to Washington, a decorated hero tormented by deep emotional scars. Burdened with a crushing guilt and harrowing memories he cannot escape, Jamison's life is consumed by an explosive temper, sleepless nights, and a gradual descent into alcoholism. Will he continue, alone with his anguish and misery? Or will he level with those around him, including the woman he loves, and seek the professional care he desperately needs, even at the risk of exposing his most closely guarded secrets?’

Each character in this excellent novel is so well sculpted that they become visual, capturing our empathy and compassion. The atmosphere is realistic as though painted by a service veteran, and the spectrum of war as scoped through a comparison of the Civil War and World War II brings new insights about the fever and action and consequences of war – not only creating a fascinating survey, but also a contemporary manner of focusing on the world condition as we are living it now. Powerful, exceptionally well written, this is a unique ‘time travel’ tale that invites the reader to consider ‘choices.’ Very highly recommended. 

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.