At Westish College, a small school on the shore of Lake Michigan, baseball star Henry Skrimshander seems destined for big league stardom. But when a routine throw goes disastrously off course, the fates of five people are upended.
Henry's fight against self-doubt threatens to ruin his future. College president Guert Affenlight, a longtime bachelor, has fallen unexpectedly and helplessly in love. Owen Dunne, Henry's gay roommate and teammate, becomes caught up in a dangerous affair. Mike Schwartz, the Harpooners' team captain and Henry's best friend, realizes he has guided Henry's career at the expense of his own. And Pella Affenlight, Guert's daughter, 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, these five are forced to confront their deepest hopes, anxieties, and secrets. In the process they forge new bonds, and help one another find their true paths. Written with boundless intelligence and filled with the tenderness of youth, The Art of Fielding is an expansive, warmhearted novel about ambition and its limits, about family and friendship and love, and about commitment -- to oneself and to others.
Recalling works as disparate as Chaim Potok's The Chosen, John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany, and Scott Lasser's Battle Creek, Harbach's big-hearted and defiantly old-fashioned debut demonstrates the rippling effects of a single baseball gone awry. When college shortstop phenom Henry Skrimshander accidentally beans teammate Owen Dunne with a misplaced throw, it starts a chain reaction on the campus of Westish College, "that little school in the crook of the baseball glove that is Wisconsin." Owen is solicitously visited in the hospital by school president Guert Affenlight, a widower, who falls in love with the seductive gay student, a "serious breech of professional conduct" that sends potentially devastating ripples through the school. Affenlight's daughter, Pella, after a failed marriage in San Francisco, returns to become part of a love triangle with Henry and Mike Schwartz, the team captain and Henry's unofficial mentor. And just when Henry's hopes of playing for the St. Louis Cardinals come within reach, he suffers a crisis of confidence, even as his team makes a rousing run at the championship. Through it all, Henry finds inspiration in the often philosophically tinged teachings found in The Art of Fielding ("Death is the sanction of all that the athlete does"), by a fictional retired shortstop. Harbach manages incisive characterizations of his five main players, even as his narrative, overlong and prone to affectation, tests the reader's patience.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Real good read. Hard to believe it's his first. I appreciated the openly gay character playing college sports. If it's good enough for Westish and the military, should be good enough for the NFL, NBA and MLB.
The tweak is on the baseball writing. As a huge fan, little things like the perfect bunt past the pitcher with runners on 1st and 2nd are annoying. That bunt goes right to the third baseman in the perfect scenario.
Characters were well conceived and believable.
Would highly recommend.
If you don't know baseball, this is not for you
After reading the most glowing review of this book in Vanity Fair (written by a friend of this book's author), I was left in no doubt that I MUST read this literary classic-to-be.
The book started off very well, introducing some very rounded characters. But then you start reading about baseball games. And if you are like me- clueless about baseball- you'd miss many seemingly important developments of the story. I felt like I had to fill in some gaps with my assumptions.
Halfway through the book, the writing turns overly descriptive. Metaphors and analogies became compulsory to elaborate on every small thought or minute action of the characters. I just wanted the story to move along! Some of the new romances and relationships introduced at this point were so weak that it really strained my suspension of disbelief. I stopped engaging with anybody in the story about three quarters in.
The Vanity Fair article sold me this book by telling me how the price of this manuscript broke all records. I wanted to understand why the author was paid so much for his debut book. And this will probably be the last time I will base my book purchase on how much a publisher is willing to pay for a manuscript.
The Art of Fielding
It might help to know baseball, and then maybe not. Any sport might have done the trick,but it had to be a team activity and take it from there. A good read thanks to fleshed out characters that you care about and a well told story of a portion of several people's lives, though none might seem familiar to most of us. That's okay, because I rarely relate to the subjects, just their predicaments and thought processes. You seem to find bits of yourself in many good books. Anyway, I recommend this book without hesitancy.