The Numbers Game

Updated: Nov 27, 2021

Like many people, I find World War II to be an intriguing time in history and one that I enjoy reading about in both fiction and nonfiction. Whether told from the perspective of a child or an adult, every person’s experience is important and tells a different side of the story. It seems that more and more books have been written about this historic period of late, and as we approach the centennial in just a couple of short decades, I imagine there will be more coming.

The Numbers Game is a gripping short story about a man named Maurice Mickelwhite who serves as a pilot in the Royal Air Force. In order to rectify the horrors he witnesses on a daily basis, Maurice finds solace in numbers, specifically in the statistics that will dictate the probability of one’s death. Time and again, he witnesses as his statistics proven true, balancing the books of life as men fall by both friendly and enemy fire. As time passes, Maurice draws ever closer to his own Zero point, and he must face his mortality head on when the moment finally arrives. Please see my full review here.

This book is compellingly written and is presented as a short story, one with a concise delivery that is engaging and satisfying. While I appreciate when books are written in this way, this particular story would be equally well suited to being extended into a longer novel with more details and character development. Beautifully descriptive language is utilized throughout the book, placing readers squarely in Maurice’s mindset in the depths of war. One particularly striking line encapsulates much of the story for me: “bullet holes marched over his wings like bloody great sewing needles.”

I especially enjoyed the colloquial language used throughout the book, particularly in the dialogue among Maurice and his companions. Likewise, specific references to elements pertaining to World War II England are woven into the narrative, unobtrusively introducing new generations to the way things used to be. The book itself is not broken into traditional chapters; rather, it is separated by asterisks when necessary which provides a tool for shifting time and allows readers a moment to absorb the events that have just occurred.

This is a fascinating and thought-provoking narrative that is suitable for mature young adults as well as adults interested in this time period. The gritty realities of war are not sugar coated, but because of its cursory nature, this book does not amplify tragedy as much as longer novels might do. I recommend this story to anyone interested in World War II and looking for a brief but deep diversion from their daily experience.

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