Chaos. That’s the word that comes to mind when thinking of Bottom of the 33rd. That’s not to imply that the game, or this book, are chaotic in nature,...moreChaos. That’s the word that comes to mind when thinking of Bottom of the 33rd. That’s not to imply that the game, or this book, are chaotic in nature, it’s more an observation of the random chaotic events that conspire to make things happen. Part of my love of baseball is borne of my love for seeing so many different influences and factors come together in one place. Baseball is a beautiful illustration of the Buddhist chains of causality. A player might end up in Arizona rather than Seattle because someone exercised their no-trade option, which might have resulted because of another player’s negative experience in Seattle, which in turn resulted from a chance collision in the outfield, and so on up the chain. Statistics may skew wildly in one direction or the other, but the laws of probability eventually pull them to an equilibrium, giving us a hint of some sort of order driving these random changes.
Bottom of the 33rd is about understanding how those causes converge into one place. Every game, viewed through this lens, is a miracle: the collection of talent from around the world, all brought into this one place in Pawtucket, Rhode Island; the hits that didn’t fall, the great pitches that just missed, the blown umpire call.
Bottom of the 33rd is, of course, about the longest baseball game ever played, in April, 1981, between two minor league teams, the Rochester Red Wings and the Pawtucket Red Sox; even more than that, it’s about the fates of the men that played that game, the many divergent paths that brought them to that one place in history and the paths that they would follow onward from there. Barry takes us through the game in chunks of ten innings each, hitting the high points of the game and casting a spotlight upon the lives of each key player in those points. Through this approach, he weaves a complex tapestry of lives, showing us that even one simple evening at the ballpark contains more guiding factors than we normally consider. It gives the reader a greater appreciation of not just the game, but of life in general and the enormous factors that must come together to put us at any given place at any given time. The book is highly recommended just for that, let alone the quality of the writing and the behind-the-scenes information that holds your attention throughout. If you’re a baseball fan, you can’t go wrong.(less)
Oh, I've been waiting to write this review. This book grabbed hold of me and did not let go until the very end. I could write an essay about some of t...moreOh, I've been waiting to write this review. This book grabbed hold of me and did not let go until the very end. I could write an essay about some of the subtleties in the characters here; perhaps even a book, but I'll stick to some of the basics.
Kevin is not a happy child. From the beginning, he seems to resent not only his distant mother and overweening father, but life in general. As Shriver shows us the progression of Kevin's life in tandem with a growing understanding of his mother, Eva, the parallels between the two become ever clearer. The two enter into a war of sorts, a battle of strong wills for not only Kevin's destiny but the destiny of the family itself. Kevin's escalating, increasingly unspeakable acts provide the impetus that drives the story forward, but the plot is almost incidental to this book. I stress almost, because a sole judgment of the plot misses the elements that make this book so extraordinary.
It's all about theme and character. Yes, the central question of this book seems to be about whether a killer is born or created, ultimately demurring on the answer itself, but such a facile analysis misses the layers of complexity that Shriver weaves in attempting to answer that question. More than once Shriver intimates that Eva and her son are not so dissimilar; the key to understanding this is in a passage where Eva states that women internalize their rage while men visit it upon the world. Eva is an angry, rage-filled woman with a fury very much the equal of her son's fury, she just expresses it in a different manner, though sometimes we see the equal of Kevin's expressions, such as when she rails against the mundane qualities of everyday life.
Kevin's father Franklin is an ineffectual man who lives in a constant haze of denial. It becomes clear that he attempts to plaster the world's disappointments and flaws over with rose-colored cellophane, seeing everything - save for his wife's increasing fear of and frustration with their son - as benign. It's little wonder that Kevin's fury toward him is even stronger than his anger toward his mother. He doesn't even hide that rage particularly well, but his father misses the insincerity time and time again, until it's too late.
The theme here is a child who may have been born damaged in some emotional capacity but who never receives the attention that he may have needed to overcome that issue. Both parents were far too focused on their own needs, projecting their wants and insecurities onto the damaged child. Make no mistake, though, that Kevin is also a monster, and the only true innocent in this whole Greek tragedy is the daughter Celia, who ends up getting far worse than she ever deserved.
I hated just about all of the characters on some primal level, but I couldn't look away. The whole thing formed such a perfect storm of dysfunctional family dynamics and maladaptive psychology that it's hard to imagine it ending in any other way. I can't recommend this book highly enough.(less)
Short and sweet: the author never gives you a chance to get to know the characters before ripping their world apart. I disliked Alice from the start,...more
Short and sweet: the author never gives you a chance to get to know the characters before ripping their world apart. I disliked Alice from the start, and he didn't give her redeeming qualities until well into the story. As a result, nothing mattered to me at all; it felt like a hollow series of events played out by puppets. Unfortunate, as it had a promising concept. Not the worst I've read, as I'd remember such a book. This one simply fades away in the memory.(less)