This book is one of the more unique ones I’ve read recently. It’s not that it’s tackling something different or controversial. Rather, it’s quite the opposite: it’s a sweeping portrait of a family, a game, a nation. Quiet in its execution, yet grand in its ambition, Alan Gratz’s book pulls off something I didn’t think was possible: presenting a slice of Americana through and through.
The format is clever, too: it’s a series of short stories, told in nine “innings” that travel through the years. Beginning in 1845 with a German immigrant, Felix Schneider, and going up until present, the stories offer a picture of how baseball — and America — have evolved over the last 160 years. Gratz touches on all the major highlights of Americana: there are a Civil War soldier, vaudeville, gangsters, racism and the Negro League, the All-American Girls Baseball league, and the Cold War. As in the case of all short story collections, some of the stories work better than others: in my opinion, the further back in time the stories are set, the better; the final two more modern stories felt a bit clichéd to me.
But even with its unevenness, The Brooklyn Nine is a fabulous undertaking. This may sound like a sports book, and in some ways it is — many baseball-minded boys out there would probably love the book — but it’s so grounded in history and in family that baseball becomes more a character in the story than just a game that people played. That, and the stories — and especially the author’s notes in the back, which I flipped to and read after every chapter — make the game itself sound quite fascinating.
At one point, I thought that it would have been nice to read these stories backward, beginning with the present day, and working back to the 1840s. But that’s just me being particular. This book really is a wonderful little story.