Whew. That was a crazy two weeks! I moved into a new apartment and got a new car. Other work got backed up, and thus the fact that you haven’t heard from me for a while now. Don’t tell me you didn’t miss me. (Please, don’t.)
In honor of the San Francisco Giants clinching the NL West over the weekend, I am now going to follow through on my promise to review Chad Harbach’s very first (and quite critically acclaimed) novel, The Art of Fielding (2011).
Let me start by saying that Harbach worked on this book for nine years. (Or so says Wikipedia.) NINE YEARS! Kinda makes me want to just leave it be, you know? I mean, holy crap. Can you imagine taking something you worked for 9 years to create and just throwing it out there for the general public to hopefully enjoy but most likely tear apart? It takes guts. Luckily for him, it turns out he’s a pretty talented writer.
Harbach’s dedication to the creation of world that we enter in Fielding is evidenced by the time he took to create not only a fictional history of baseball for the story but also an entire book to which the main character is constantly referring and from which Harbach’s novel gets its name. “The Art of Fielding,” it turns out, is a small collection of baseball wisdom written by possibly the greatest shortstop of all time, Aparicio Rodriguez. (Who, of course, never really existed; but Harbach makes a pretty convincing case.) As a phrase, it also poetically refers to the ways in which we deal with the strange and varied life circumstances that come our way–but you’ll only grasp the depth of that metaphor if you actually read the book.
I didn’t love The Art of Fielding like I loved The Brothers K, which is not really a slam. Duncan sets the bar quite high; and, it probably isn’t fair to compare the two novels based purely on the fact that they both have to do with the great American pastime. But, I do think Harbach’s relative inexperience (as far as novels go) shows through in this debut. The book starts out very strong–detail and characterization are prominent, and there is a cryptic nature to the writing that keeps the reader intrigued. However, slowly but surely pure plot takes over and we lose the specialness of Harbach’s writing. It becomes a typical contemporary American novel. I’ve heard it compared to Franzen and Irving, and the similarities are pretty obvious for both. Personally, I’m not particularly moved by either of those writers, which is probably why I did not, ultimately, feel very invested in Fielding as a story or most of the characters that it portrays.
I continued reading and eventually finished the novel because the events in the characters’ lives are just unusual enough to warrant curiosity. Also, the main character’s struggle with his talent and the new pressure of stardom did create sufficient suspense. I have to say, though, in all honesty, if you find baseball boring, you may not be as intrigued. All in all, I didn’t find this novel to be particularly ‘important.’ It’s not a must-read. And neither is it a ‘don’t-read.’ I would say check it out if you have the time and the interest…but maybe borrow it.
Until next week, children!