Arts, Books — September 26, 2012 9:00 am

The Art of Fielding: Good Game, Good Game

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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.)

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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!

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  • So, if it was a movie, you’d tell me to wait for it to come out on DVD; or, wait for me to be able to download off a torrent site. lol. Just kidding. I still have to get to The Brother’s K, so this will have to wait. Ordered The Brother’s K a week ago; it still hasn’t arrived. Gestating for 9 years! Wow. I think of poor old Miles Raymond (Paul Giamatti) in that movie Sideways (2004):

    “Half my life is over and I have nothing to show for it. Nothing. I am thumbprint on the window of a skyscraper. I’m a smudge of excrement on a tissue surging out to sea with a million tons of raw sewage.”

    Chad Harbach is probably not as neurotic, lol. And at least Harbach got his book published. I wonder if the reason why it didn’t effect you like The Brother’s K did was because Harbach over-pampered it a bit, sort of a like an overprotective parent ruining a child’s development. I’ll have to see. But the verdict, on the whole seems to be, as Miles would put it: “Quaffable, but uh… far from transcendent.”

    • Hahaha wow you really liked Sideways! :)

      Yes, it’s definitely a ‘wait for the DVD’ (or, paperback) type of story, in my opinion. It’s definitely above average; but, reading a book takes a lot longer than watching a movie, so I think we have to be much more discriminating in how we choose to spend our time in that regard.

  • Oh yea, Sideways is one of my favorite movies ever! Love the story. And Maya is my ideal woman. God, I have such a crush on her. lol. Anyway, hopefully Harbach’s stuff will get better with time. Maybe there will be another huge gap between the next publication, sort of like it was when one used to be waiting for the next Kubrick movie. Speaking of movies, I’m really excited about Terrance Malick’s new ‘To the Wonder’. Have you heard anything about it? Read a good appetizer here if you’d like:

    • I’ve only heard about it (Malick’s new one) by name, but nothing about its content. Like it is for most people, his work is hit and miss with me. Tree of Life in particular really pissed me off, except the scenes with the family in the 50s/60s–those were beautiful and amazing. But CGI dinosaurs taking care of each other? Psssh. (That’s an industry term.) :)

  • Thanks for this write up, but Bahhh? I do think you’ve missed a great book here, though. Harbauch’s affenlight character–this college president–his gay, profound romance; his ever-present references to Emerson, Whitman, Dickinson; this main character ball player who is essentially rendered paralyzed by his own thought; this game that you can be good, even great at, and then you’re done.

    If you are not moved by this… If, as you say, you’re not moved by Franzen either (!?), I have to wonder what moves you?

    • It’s safe to say I’m simply moved by different styles. This contemporary American thing hasn’t yet proven to be *my* thing, and I know many other people in the boat with me on that, so… yeah. :)

      I suppose Harbauch’s plot is intriguing at its most skeletal, and sure his allusions are educated–the same things can be said of Franzen’s work–yet I find their syntax itself dry and removed. It’s not for me, for the most part. I crave something more…vulnerable, more invested. I sensed Harbauch’s relationship with the main boy to be the most passionate, but aside from that I didn’t witness his writing approach the line that leads to ‘greatness.’

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