Book Reviews: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

Author: Chad Harbach
Title:  The Art of Fielding
Publication Info: New York : Little, Brown and Co., 2011.
ISBN: 9780316126694

Set at a liberal arts college in Wisconsin, this novel focuses on shortstop phenom Henry Skrimshander and the Westish College catcher and captain Mike Schwartz who recruits him for the school and team.  The early part of the novel focuses on Henry’s fish out of water at college and his sassy gay roommate Owen Dunne.  Owen seems to good to be true as he not only writes plays but also is on the baseball team (and gets away with reading books in the dugout) .  The novel takes an unexpected turn when the college president Guert Affenlight becomes the central character as he deals with reconciling with his estranged daughter Pella and an obsession with Owen.  Eventually the stories of all five characters come together, although the unlikelieness of their grouping based on a number of coincidences is one of the weaknesses of the story (especially the actions of these characters at the conclusion of the novel which just don’t ring true).  The strengths of the novel are strong characterization and beautiful prose.  Harbach is adept at describing baseball like a great sportswriter but also fills his novel with literary references (most obviously to Herman Melville, but the novel often seems to be channeling John Irving).  The Art of Fielding is not a perfect novel but it is an enjoyable read with unforgettable characters.

Recommended books:  A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger, and The Little Book by Selden Edwards.

Rating: ***

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