David's Reviews > The Art of Fielding

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
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Feb 20, 2012

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Read from January 19 to February 20, 2012

On the one hand, The Art of Fielding was not what I expected (keeping in mind that I thought that this was going to be a coming of age story about baseball). On the other, it was so much more than what I was expecting. In the end, I think it could have been even more.

The Art of Fielding starts and ends the same way, with Henry Skrimshander fielding practice balls from his position at shortstop, a position for which he has trained his whole life with the dedication that leads to true greatness in any field. The title The Art of Fielding is derived from a fictional book written by a fictional ballplayer who was the best shortstop ever and was an idol of Henry's childhood. The story of the book takes place mainly during Henry's junior year on the Westish College Harpooners baseball team. The team is called the Harpooners in reference to Herman Melville's Moby-Dick. But The Art of Fielding is as much a story about baseball as Moby-Dick is a story about a whale.

In my opinion the real main character of The Art of Fielding is Guert Affenlight, the president of Westich College, and the story is about his relationship with his daughter, Pella, and with Henry's roommate, Owen. Henry is merely the tie that binds these characters together and the action that drives them together and apart. The coming of age story is not that of a college baseball player, but that of a college president who is an estranged father reuniting with his daughter and coming to terms with his new found homosexual attraction to a college junior. This story line is the strength of the novel.

The problem that I had with The Art of Fielding was that it isn't a story about baseball in the same way that Moby-Dick isn't a story about a whale. Baseball is just an activity that some of the characters do and other of the characters watch. The championship run by the Harpooners is just something that happens in the book while other people's lives are happening. Baseball isn't even a metaphor (at least not that I picked up) and the fictional "The Art of Fielding" is not applied to life in the same way that it is applied to baseball. I think that The Art of Fielding could have explored the intricacies of baseball as a metaphor for the intricacies of life. I think that Henry's troubles could have been more deeply explored. I think that more of the players on the team could have been fleshed out more.

In the end, I liked The Art of Fielding and give it a solid 3 stars, if not 3.5. I would recommend it to anyone, not just people interested in baseball, but I was hoping for a literary "Sandlot," and that isn't what I got. The story is interesting and worth a read, I just wish it was more about baseball.
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