The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbach (2011)
As I mentioned in my October TBR, I went into this book knowing nothing other than that it was about baseball. I was wrong. Well, not entirely. Baseball is a big part of the story, pretty much the whole setting to be honest, but if I had have read the blurb before picking this up, I may have been less surprised by what I found.
Henry Skrimshander, newly arrived at college, shy and out of his depth, has a talent for baseball that borders on genius. But sometimes it seems that his only friend is big Mike Schwartz – who champions the talents of others, at the expense of his own. And Owen, Henry’s clever, charismatic, gay roommate, who has a secret that could put his brilliant college career in jeopardy.
Pella, the 23-year-old daughter of the college president, has returned home after a failed marriage, determined to get her life in order. Only to find her father, a confirmed bachelor, has fallen desperately in love himself.
Then, one fateful day, Henry makes a mistake – misthrows a ball. And everything changes…
Now having read the book, never have I been more… confused about the aspects of the story that were chosen to be featured in a blurb. Anyway, that doesn’t make this book sound anywhere near as amazing as it is, so ignore that and read on.
I won’t beat around the bush here, within the first 100 pages I was revelling in the story. I knew I was going to love it already because the writing style was clear and descriptive and beautifully paced. The characters were varied and there were multiple viewpoints without ever really segmenting the story. The way in which Harbach wove the viewpoints together reminds me of the way in which the TV show ER is shot. That is, the fluidity of the camera following one character around a corner or into a room before latching on to another, and then another, never stopping. It’s something I have always admired in both film and writing, and it is showcased in Harbach’s writing.
In addition to my admiration of Harbach’s writing style, I kept reading because I was invested in the characters. I quickly fell in love with Henry’s brooding, injury riddled bear of a best friend-come-coach Mike Schwartz. He was the veteran, in every sense of the word, to Henry’s rookie and it was thanks to Mike that Henry became the ballplayer he did. I have a thing for characters who try; the characters who want to be good, more than anything, and who try and try and often fall short but they keep trying. Characters who want to be better. These are the characters who make me feel and it’s another mark of great writing.
While I’m still on about the writing; it really is beautiful. Scroll through some quotes, you’ll see.
Moving on. Just past the halfway mark the plot developed in a way that put me off a bit. Suddenly I didn’t care about Henry at all, or about President Affenlight as much as I had previously. Things weren’t working out as well as I had hoped for my beloved characters but I persevered. I liked that the story wasn’t focused solely on baseball, though those scenes that were included were great, and that the story become very serious in parts. I especially liked that the story didn’t end happily for everyone; for those are my favourite kinds of endings. This book affected me in a really deep but positive way and I would recommend it to anyone.