The Art of Fielding
By Chad Harbach
(Back Bay Books, Paperback, 9780316126670, May 2012, 544pp.)
The Short of It:
To say this debut novel is about baseball, would be a gross understatement.
The Rest Of It:
Henry Skrimshander is a quiet boy with one heck of an arm. Destined for greatness, he is invited to play baseball at Westish College but after one wild pitch and the injury that resulted from it, he becomes paralyzed with fear every time he steps onto the field. Also affected are the four people he’s gotten to know while playing ball. Guert Affenlight, the college president, his daughter Pella, and his teammates Owen Dunne and Mike Schwartz are all tangled up in Henry’s world as they struggle to find their place.
I received a review copy of this long before it was released for publication, but as gorgeous as that copy was, it did not survive when my daughter accidentally dumped a bottle of water onto it while in the car. And did I mention that she didn’t tell me about it until three days later when it was a pulpy mess? Yeah. I tried to dry it out but the pages were stuck together and then when I checked it out from the library, I had to return it unread because I never could find the right time to read it. I mean, it was about baseball right?
Yes, and no. The Art of Fielding centers around baseball, but there is more to the story than just playing ball. It wouldn’t surprise me if a lot of readers avoided this one because they thought they’d have to know a lot about the game to follow it (you don’t) or that it would be about manly men with attitudes and a bone to pick (it’s not). It’s a tender, sweet story about friendship and love and figuring out where you fit in. As Henry attempts to find his way, the others come along for the ride and figure out things about themselves that perhaps they’d never be forced to face had Henry not entered the scene.
I really enjoyed this one and reading it now, after it’s been out for so long, I have to say that it never felt like a debut novel to me. Harbach’s grasp of his characters is swift and self-assured and the writing is straight-forward and alive. It’s incredibly readable and I think that’s important to note given its length (500+ pages). It’s one of those feel-good novels that you seek out every now and then and we all need more of those. I highly recommend it.
Note from Ti: I also listened to a portion of this on audio and it was also very good.
Source: Sent to me by the publisher.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.