I really enjoyed this book. It reminded me (at times) of both Infinite Jest and Skippy Dies, but then again that could be because it was a book mostly about boys at school. With the sole exception of Pella, there really aren't any female characters (Mrs. McCallister is barely a character). Overall, the story was good the pacing was entertaining, there were some interesting philosophical moments and it is just a solid novel.
I found Harbach's theme of repetition interesting in a novel about college and growing up; he manages in (at least) three separate points to talk about the importance of ritual and meaning in the mundane: "it was that sameness, that repetition, that gave life meaning." and "the dreamy, paradisiacal side of domestic ritual: when all the days were possessed of the same minutiae precisely because you wanted them to be." and "All he'd ever wanted was for nothing to ever change." Seems paradoxical to me on an intellectual level, but certainly compelling in the day to day to think about the comforts of a set routine.
I loved the Affenlight's impatience for time with and thoughts about Owen: "When it came to impressing someone you thought you might love, a year might as well be forever." There are so many instances in which this is apt; it is so hard to wait to hear something from the one person that you'd like to hear from.
That said, of course I always have some complaints. I found the dinner/hors d'ouevers at Affenlights with Owen and his mother to be completely off mark. These are four almost complete strangers, yet they are relaxed, accepting, and totally comfortable with each other. I have not ever been at such a laid back dinner party in my life...yet alone with three near strangers. Similarly, the first time that Pella and Henry meet (for lunch, not the second time which is when they hop in bed together..also equally ridiculous) the conversation is remarkably personal and comfortable. How is it that these people are so accepting, welcoming, and honest with near strangers?
Towards the end, things started to dissolve too neatly and the whole thing ended up feeling a bit forced (Affenlight's death was too overdone yet prosaic at the same time; the whole dig up and re-bury at sea so melodramatic and convenient; the fact that they won the championship BECAUSE Henry batted; just all too contrived and neatly tied up).
I was also slightly distracted by the disappearance of Henry's family and David. They are all there the same weekend and after the disastrous Friday night David is gone on Saturday with nevermore a word (odd considering they do have to at least complete the paperwork formalities for divorce). Then, on Saturday night, Sophie (Henry's sister) and Owen and Mike all pass out in Henry's room but are conveniently not there when Henry comes in on Sunday morning. Certainly Owen and Mike had a bus to catch for a baseball game, but what happened when Sophie woke up in the strange dorm room on Sunday morning? How did she get back to her parent's hotel room? Why did they quietly leave town before seeing their son? Just too easy for all of those extras to disappear.
I found it equally annoying that Schwartz had a premonition that Henry would show up for the last game. Really? To what end was that sentence written? Similarly, it seemed a cop out that Harbach had Henry wake up in the hospital with amnesia and we were able to have Schwartz tell the story of the last game. This could have been accomplished just as easily by having Henry pass out at the end (certainly believable given his mental and physical state at that point), but Schwartz could tell the story to Pella.
Strongly recommended, even for those who are not baseball fans.