Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Review of The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
I took a course in creative non-fiction as an undergrad, so long ago I didn't have any gray hair, so long ago that I took myself and my writing very seriously, so long ago that I didn't enjoy comma spliced run-on sentences. During this long ago undergrad course, I tried to write a piece about the feel of a minor league baseball game, but my family history kept getting in the way. That was the first time someone articulated to me "The Field of Dreams Problem": every baseball story is a story of fathers and sons.

The Art of Fielding tackles that problem and many others, too, with the subtle grace of a double play pivot- it is not effortless, the execution is not always flawless, but it possesses an intrinsic beauty that speaks deeply and vividly to anyone willing to devote the attention to appreciate it.

The story revolves around 5 main characters: Henry, the shortstop with the cannon arm and unmatched fielding prescience; Swartz, a hard-nosed catcher who recruited Henry for the college team; Henry's roommate, Owen, the gay outfielder drifting towards an affair with the college president; said president, possibly the most distinguished alumnus in the college's history; and, the president's brilliant high school dropout daughter, recently separated from her husband.

Each of the main characters radiated life and energy and the kind of depth that makes a book stick with me for a long time. If you love books you will enjoy The Art of Fielding; you won't need to tell a shortstop from a center fielder, nor separate Babe Ruth from Mario Mendoza. If you enjoy brisk, spry writing, you will enjoy this book. If you love baseball, you can do far worse.

I've been struggling for a week to write this review, trying to decide whether to address the novel's great flaw, and if so how to do it without spoilers. The cast of characters feel ready for the movie adaptation, and that coupled with the slipstream flow of the first and last thirds of the book suggest satire. But the middle third careens into tragedy. The Art of Fielding could have been a well-spun tragedy, but the ending relapses to the sepia tones of the novel's opening. It is as neat, as light, as unsatisfying as any Shakespeare comedy. That disconnect in tone from the middle of the novel (which was fantastic) and its denouement (and I've said before, the ending is everything) weakens my experience of the book.

This was the 17th of the 52 books I'm reading this year.

No comments:

Post a Comment