The Art of Fielding

I recently finished reading Chad Harbach’s book, The Art of Fielding. It was recommended to me at the beginning of the summer, by my friend Stephanie, but I didn’t get around to actually reading it until the end of the summer. Even with the delay, though, it still felt like a nice summer read.

The story follows a fictional baseball team from fictional college, on the shores of Lake Michigan in Wisconsin. Its primary plot centers around the team’s quest for a championship. But there are also individual complexities involving some of the team’s star players. Mike Schwartz, the team’s catcher, is desperately fighting against knee problems, addiction to painkillers, lack of direction for his life following college, and an unrelenting drive for team success. His protege, Henry Skrimshander, is a once-in-a-generation talent at shortstop. He grows from a scrawny nobody from nowhere to a dominant force in college baseball. He ties the record for most games without an error, and then he suddenly loses his confidence and forgets how to throw the baseball. Owen Dunne, an African-American, gay genius, isn’t nearly as talented as a ball-player, but he serves an important role in the story.

There’s a lot of sports imagery — particularly baseball imagery — in this book. But it’s not a sports book. It’s far more geared towards the readers of The New Yorker than the readers of Sports Illustrated.

My favorite part of this book was its character development. Mike Schwartz… Henry Skrimshander… Owen Dunne… Guert Affenlight… Pella Affenlight… These characters were living and breathing. I understood and identified with their motivations. I wanted to find out what happened with each of their story-lines.

My least-favorite part of the book was its sex scenes. These were frequent enough and graphic enough that I don’t feel comfortable offering a whole-hearted recommendation of this book to others. The power dynamics in the relationship between Guert and Owen are also problematic — particularly in light of the last few years of the “Me Too” movement. There were just parts of the story where I felt “icky.” I understand that some of these helped to develop the plot. Still, I could have done with less of this aspect.

Overall, I’m still glad that I got the chance to read this book. Well-written fiction always stirs me in ways that make me think, “I really need to read books like this more often.”

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