Themes and Meanings
Coover’s novel need not be read as a metaphor for American life or as any comment on society. It is sufficient to see it as the story of a mind succumbing to the real delights of the imagination. J. Henry Waugh has real creative power: What he does differs not at all from what the writer of a novel might do. Henry is talented enough a creator that his audience, even though it is only himself, may justly prefer the world of his dreams to the world of reality: His dreamworld has the color, vigor, energy, and drama—both tragedy and comedy—that Henry’s “real” existence lacks. No character in the “real” world is as quirky, as individual, or as full of life as the players of the UBA.
Many of these UBA characters seem to image his own situation in a fragmentary way. A manager the same age as Henry, Sycamore Flynn, has a nightmarish experience: He becomes lost in passages beneath an empty baseball park at night. When, to his relief, he emerges onto the darkened field, he has the feeling that the diamond is peopled with ghosts who are endlessly replaying the game in which Rutherford was killed. What better metaphor for Henry, who is literally losing his way beneath the weight of the baseball fantasy that he has created?
The reader who finds himself wishing (in the middle of a scene in the accounting office) that the novel would return to the playing fields of Henry’s imagination can well understand the fascination that the game holds for Henry and can find Henry’s ultimate loss of self in the game as a plausible outcome.