Peter's Reviews > The Art of Fielding

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
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's review
Jan 14, 12

really liked it

Man, I really didn't want to like this book. And here, quickly, are the reasons why:

Number 1) Pure jealousy. Harbach got paid like a bajillion dollars for his very first novel. I was paid slightly less than that. Okay, a lot less than that.

Number 2) I don't like n+1 magazine, of which he is the co-founder. I find it pretentious and boring. I would honestly rather read Cat Fancy.

Number 3) Harbach wrote an article about MFA vs. New York writers that was, in a word, uber-douchy. And anyone who weighs in on that argument has already told you something about themselves that you'd be best off not knowing.

So, as you can see, I had all my petty reasons amassed into an army of pre-read hatred. I was ready to unleash the critical beast and be confirmed in my belief that all hyped literary things are, at heart, overrated, particularly new "it" books written by new "it" writers.

Then I read it.

And I'll be damned if it isn't a really good book. It's not earth-shattering. It's not even particularly person-shattering. But it's great storytelling, particularly when it comes to the friendship/rivalry of the two baseball players at its core.

Harbach writes sports with a strong balance of precision and emotional coloration. He literally had me on the edge of my seat during his masterfully-imagined game days. I felt like I could see the whole field expand in front of me, but, on top of the action, I had access to the internal state of the players. And when it came to the wondrous and beleaguered Henry Skrimshander (a note: the names in this book will either be the best or the worst names in literary history, depending on your personal taste), it was fascinating to get inside the mind of a natural who is beginning to deal with the unnatural. And it was just as compelling to see the game from the eyes of Mike Schwartz, the old soul team captain who pops "Vikes" like they're beer nuts.

Off the diamond, Harbach was a little less successful, but still batting at decent average (Ha! A baseball pun). While I had moments of disbelief with the gay affair that takes up a bit more page space than it likely should have, it was never completely bungled. And the lone female character, Pella, avoided token status with a compelling backstory and a believable case of indecision. Her life is pretty much defined by the men vying for her affections, but it helps (a tiny bit) that she admits this early on and tries to free herself of the affliction.

The prose is a seemingly-effortless mix of clarity with flourishes of the lyric, particularly in moments of high action. I also really liked all the poetic waxing about America's pastime and the art of being a shortstop.

On the whole, this was a solid meaty book about surprisingly interesting meat-heads. I cared. I invested. I wanted to be in the locker room of Westish College, post small-stakes win, all the while contemplating suffering, love, perfection, and the infinity pattern of a baseball's red stitching. But when I was done, I was happy to go back to being a barely-coordinated nerd. Less chance of a pulled groin.
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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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Kerry Haven't read the book yet, but I enjoyed your review. Nice wit.

message 2: by M. (new)

M. Sarki I, too, hate N+1 magazine, but for a somewhat more different and violent reason I would be too happy to explain, but also in addition to some of your same reasons as well, with those being my agreement with you that the magazine is pretentious and a bore.

message 3: by Christina (new) - added it

Christina "I would honestly rather read Cat Fancy." Made me smile.

message 4: by Claudia (new)

Claudia *uber-douchy*? priceless word lol!

Alline I happened to love this book, but loved your review even more. (I just ordered a copy of your book).

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