The Batter’s Box is a tour de force—a riveting tale of baseball, war, and the human spirit. Many writers are skilled at conveying one particular niche or historical period. Andy Kutler does it all. The book begins with the story of an elderly woman. Her body is frail but her mind still sharp. She has reached that point at the end of life when she is secure in her own identity, satisfied with the experiences life has brought her, and needing nothing more than a sympathetic ear to hear her story.
Then quickly, the scene shifts, and the author is taking the reader on a nostalgic trip to a baseball diamond. The air is thick with the smells of dust, sweat, peanut shells, and hotdog grease. It’s 1941. Baseball is the national pastime, and playing ball is the dream of little boys everywhere. Talented players are heroes, and their names resonate with those of us who lived through the forties and fifties. The sports enthusiast might be content to follow Will Jamison and his baseball career to the end of the book.
But the author has much more in store for his readers. It’s now 1944, and our hero finds himself in Belgium, headed into a confrontation that will eventually become known as The Battle of the Bulge. Kutner spares the reader nothing as he describes in gruesome detail the sights, smells, and deafening sounds of battle. Irrational men and hulking machines of death confront each other and leave only ruin behind.
Enough? No. It’s now 1946, and Will Jamison is back from the war. Peace is settling over the land again, the baseball diamonds are calling, and relieved young men are leaping toward a chance to be a hero with a bat rather than a gun. Will wants to join them, but two invisible wounds hold him back —one deep in a thigh muscle and the other burrowing deep in his brain. In those post-war years, no one knew or understood the term PTSD, and it was certainly not clear to those most affected. A loud noise—a flashing light—almost anything could trigger an emotional outburst the sufferer was helpless to withstand.
At the end of the book, the author brings us back to the present, with a surprise ending that echoes and wraps the entire package into one satisfying conclusion. This is an amazing story—well-written, beautifully designed, and emotionally satisfying. It stands head and shoulders above most of the books I have read this year.
Review by Carolyn Schriber (June 2019)