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The basic story of Coover's book is quite simple. Henry Waugh creates an intricate single-player baseball game that's played with dice. He plays entire seasons with his eight-team league; he keeps detailed statistics for every player and every game; he creates backstories and personalities for his players; he develops an administrative body for his league and imagines political debates among the players; and he acts as an official historian of the league, writing volumes of stories about the game and its players. When something shocking and unexpected occurs within the game, Henry gradually loses the ability to distinguish between reality and imagined events within the game. In the end, he is more or less consumed by his game.
As the synopsis above no doubt suggests, this story begs to be read as an allegory. One might read it as an allegory of God's relation to His creation. Henry, like God, is a creator who appears to have complete control over his creation, and yet, like God, his creation comes to take on a life of its own. When terrible things occur, he desperately wants to step in and set things right, but he also wants the game to retain its integrity. So Henry is like God in that he remains outside his creation even though it seems he could sometimes intervene to set things right. (Indeed, some of the game's players are said to have some sense of a higher power controlling their destiny.) One might also read Henry's relation to his game as an allegory of man's attempt to make sense of his world through art, religion, science, philosophy, etc. All that's really going on is the random event of rolling the dice, as, in some sense, all that's really going on in the universe is certain random physical events. And yet Henry imagines an entire alternate reality to make sense of the random events of his game. His player backgrounds and psychologies, his historical interpretations of the game, his imaginings of crowds and stadiums--all of this is intended to give the random throws of the dice some meaning, some significance to him. (This reading is also suggested by our one look at Henry at work in his job as an accountant. Rather than merely crunch the numbers, he reads a story of the operation of a business off his accounting books. He makes sense of the numbers by seeing them as evidence of something beyond themselves.) Finally, one might interpret Henry's relation to his game as an allegory of the artist's relation to his works.
These allegorical readings notwithstanding, it's also possible to read this book as a simple and moving story of one isolated man who gradually loses touch with reality. While Henry seems a decent enough chap, he has no family, only one friend (and not an especially close one), no real love interest, and no interests outside of his game. From what we learn in the novel, it seems his entire life consists in (occasionally) going to work at his mind-numbing job, stopping at the local bar to drown his sorrows, and sitting at his kitchen table playing his game. Since Henry's life is thoroughly dull and uneventful from the outside, the book focuses on what's going on in his mind. The focus of the book is his isolation and his attempts to create something important and lasting and to be a part of something larger than himself. The opportunity to create something important is what the game appears to provide him, and so it's not all that surprising that he ends up losing himself in his game.
This, of course, suggests that Henry can be understood as an example of the way in which alienated individuals can get lost in solitary pursuits that are made available to them by modern life. Because he lacks an community of people with which to identify, Henry ends up getting lost in his game in much the same way that others can get lost in books, television, the internet, etc. All of these things appear to provide their user with a connection to a world beyond himself, and yet total immersion in them brings you no closer to other people than you'd be without them.
I'd give this book 4.5 stars if I could; that seems a more accurate assessment. The reader should note that this isn't really a baseball book. It's more about the trappings of baseball--the statistics, the history, the players, the rites--than it is about the game itself. So this isn't a book for someone looking for a presentation of dramatic athletic feats; instead, it's a book for the baseball fan whose appreciation of the game is intellectual rather than visceral.
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- Publié sur Amazon.com
When I was in middle school, I was perhaps a little too much in love with a Nintendo football game called Tecmo Bowl. The game was great. I played out an entire season of NFL games using the video game teams, recording wins, losses, which teams made the playoffs, and keeping a running total of the player's stats for the season. I would even pretend to be the announcer, and sometimes recorded my commentary (painfully inane if I ever listened to it afterwards). Then I would go out in the back yard and reenact the highlights from each game. In many respects, I was similar to the protagonist of Robert Coover's The Universal Baseball Association, Inc.: J. Henry Waugh, Prop., who devises an intricate version of simulated baseball that he plays in his kitchen with dice. The difference is that I was twelve. Henry is fifty-seven.
To escape from reality into a world of imagination is regarded as endearing and encouraging in children - in adults, it seems pathetic and disturbing. As the novel progresses, we see how far Henry has taken his obsession: he concocts life stories for the players, composes songs supposedly popular in the alternate reality inhabited by the UBA, conducts pretend interviews, writes newspaper articles, lines his shelves with record books, and even conflates events of his own life with the lives of the players - and vice versa. What could drive a man to do all this? Certainly not a love for the game. In fact, Henry admits that real baseball bores him. Possible explanations seem to be desire for control, intense boredom, overwhelming feelings of isolation, or simply inability to mature and face the problems of adult life.
However, we are not given a simple explanation for Henry's habit, nor are we led to believe that his actions are to be thought of in a negative light. In many ways, Henry's Association is an exemplification of mankind's drive to create. This issue - is Henry hiding or creating? - forms the most compelling theme of The Universal Baseball Association, as well of providing much of Henry's internal conflict.
But Coover isn't content to deliver a novel with a simple theme, or ask simple questions - and therein lays both the novel's greatness and its folly. We encounter lengthy stream-of-consciousness passages, during which Henry's mind loses the ability to distinguish creation from reality. We hear Henry presented as a god, complete with powers over life and death. We are treated to parallels between creation, destruction, war, and the curious relationship between omnipotence and impotence. The entire last chapter sounds like Absurdist Theater. As we near the end, there can be no doubt that Henry is an overt schizophrenic, and yet, like Humbert Humbert, Henry has a way of making sickness seem normal.
In the opulent extravagance of the novel lies a certain genius. The flights of fancy taken by Henry's supple mind suggest meaning on a wide variety of levels. Not all of it succeeds, especially when Coover digresses into the topic of sex. Still, the book succeeds overall, both as narrative and as commentary on the nature of man. By the end, the association becomes Henry's entire system of meaning - his way of exploring good, evil, purpose, and nihilism. Perhaps answering metaphysical questions using dice is absurd, but perhaps not. As Henry reflects, "You roll, Player A gets a hit or he doesn't, gets his man out or he doesn't. Sounds simple. But call Player A 'Sycamore Flynn' or 'Melbourne Trench' and something starts to happen. He shrinks or grows, stretches out or puts on muscle.... Strange. But name a man and you make him what he is."