The Art of Fielding
4 August 2013 8 Comments
Author: Chad Harbach.
Summary: At Westish College, baseball star Henry Skrimshander seems destined for the big leagues until a routine throw goes disastrously off course. His error will upend the fates of five people.
Henry’s fight against self-doubt threatens to ruin his future. College president Guert Affenlight has fallen unexpectedly and helplessly in love. Owen Dunne becomes caught up in a dangerous affair. Mike Schwartz realises he has guided Henry’s career at the expense of his own. And Pella Affenlight returns to Westish after escaping an ill-fated marriage, determined to start a new life.
As the season counts down to its climactic final game, all five are forced to confront their deepest hopes, anxieties, and secrets.
Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5
Review: This was all about baseball without actually being about baseball at all. An American college was the setting, a baseball tournament the context and the characters themselves the plot.
I enjoyed it. I was interested, invested. I wanted to know what would happen to these people, if and how things worked out for them. And for the first two-thirds of the book, it was getting a solid four stars.
I didn’t like all of the characters, at least not all of the time, but they were real enough for me to be interested in them, to want to follow their lives for a little while.
Pella i was distinctly hot and cold on. I admired her for up and leaving a marriage which had offered her nothing without even packing a bag (and wanted to know a lot more about what went on there). I didn’t begrudge the fact that she was running back to another man who could look after her—her father. I did get a bit sick of her fickle indecisiveness and her admitted dependency on others—on men—but her unwillingness to really do anything about it.
Mike—Schwartz, as he was for me throughout—i did adore. Somehow selfless and selfish both at the same time, his feelings and motivations came through easily and believably for me. He almost wanted to be a tortured soul, as if he wasn’t that, he wouldn’t know what else to be.
Owen was a nice enough guy. I like the idea of his mellow, laid back personality. His quiet, obsessive need to read. But the Buddha thing got dull pretty quickly. This might have been different had the book ever shown things from his point of view—his integral role in the story was conspicuously lacking without one.
Guert… I think Guert intrigued me the most. And i mean generally, his all-round character. Not his starry-eyed love for a student. I think i enjoyed his mind the most. He was honest with himself. With what he wanted out of any given situation and what would be best. He made mistakes, but he didn’t try to fool himself into thinking he hadn’t made them.
Henry i was highly ambivalent towards. His perfect shortstopping was nice. His innocence and naïvety was nice. His dedication was nice. Just nice. Not that exciting, not that boring. When he throws his first off-ball, his story had the potential to get interesting. Instead, it drags on. With every game, with all his second-guessing and lack of acknowledgement of a problem, i got more bored. I wanted something to happen. It didn’t. Instead, he hid himself away and practically starved himself to death.
Regardless of my opinions of the characters and their lives, i was enjoying the book (i can enjoy characters i dislike, so long as they are well done—which they are here). I enjoyed it until Guert talked about that house he didn’t buy four years ago. Until he drove past that house the same day, and it’s conveniently for sale. Until it went on sale that day. Until Guert considers getting a dog. Until it turns out the current owners have a dog they want to leave behind. On what planet would any of that actually happen?
Ultimately, the end of the book was a let down to me. The first two-thirds, while enjoyable, were very long. It deserved a more satisfying, less rushed ending, or else it needed to be more heavily edited.
I enjoyed the writing and the characters, but not the construction, delivery and climax of the characters’ stories.