Customer Review

477 of 546 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Strong writer seeks his editorial equal, August 28, 2011
This review is from: The Art of Fielding: A Novel (Hardcover)
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I really liked the first 300 pages of Chad Harbach's debut novel, The Art of Fielding. As I was reading that 3/5 of the book, I probably would have told you that I loved it. But a funny thing happened between that point and turning the final page. The novel drifted, and tried to do things it hadn't before, and ultimately even diluted its own strengths a bit.

Harbach's players are all deserving of praise. They're authentic, human, unique yet relatable - his biggest misstep in their creation is probably their names (another instance where a strong editor maybe could have said, you know, this is distracting). The plot & themes are fairly standard liberal arts college/transitioning to adulthood stuff. The authorial voice is entertaining enough and the various avenues the characters use to avoid or delay their maturation are grounds for meaningful insight, enough that the somewhat cliche' elements are just the field on which Harbach's particular game is played.

The third act drag can mostly be attributed to one thing: in ordering this book, I was anxious about it being a "baseball book". I love baseball and have enjoyed a few fictional journeys into the sport, but generally the game is adequately dramatic and attempts to tell "important" stories in its world fall easily into melodrama. For most of The Art of Fielding, Harbach deftly avoids those traps and temptations. And then, for long stretches of the second half of the novel, it becomes the prose equivalent of underdog sports movies like "Hoosiers". Unfortunately, this is not only distracting, but it's time that could have been spent on resolving and exploring the impact of the interpersonal conflicts that were so well developed in the beginning and middle of the book.

Throughout the novel, there are chapters and characters - fat - that I would have trimmed to make The Art of Fielding a tighter and, to my mind, better reading experience. But most of my complaints are about those last two hundred pages, and took this from being a review about a book I loved, to one about an okay book from a talented writer.
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Tracked by 3 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 23 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Sep 3, 2011 3:44:52 PM PDT
I must admit I'm a bit jealous that your somewhat negative review has got almost all "helpful" votes, to which I have just added another; my own, written as a counter to the first flush of general enthusiasm, garnered five or six negatives before it even began accumulating positives! But, starting with your title, you make a very good case about the weaknesses in the book, especially the cliché use of baseball at the end as a means of resolving issues that really have very little to do with it. And that is not even mentioning the scene in the cemetery! Harbach was much better at beginning his book than ending it.

Posted on Sep 7, 2011 1:34:10 PM PDT
Ricky N. says:
Thanks for your insightful review. I am finding more and more authors are writing way too much in their novels. Economy has gone out the door with some of the most popular authors these days. It's like Charles Dickens who was paid by the word and wrote wordy tomes so he would get paid more.

Posted on Sep 11, 2011 7:39:45 PM PDT
Roni Jordan says:
Your review reminds me of the quote "I would have written a shorter letter, but didn't have the time."

Posted on Sep 13, 2011 2:52:57 PM PDT
Tells me I have a 300-page beach read, better than 500.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 14, 2011 3:12:28 PM PDT
R. Spell says:
Very well stated!

Posted on Sep 25, 2011 8:47:53 AM PDT
Book Addict says:
Based on the quality of writing you used to share your opinion, I'm sure you've earned a level of credibility that my own thoughts could never have. However, I have to respectfully disagree. I loved this book and wish it had been longer. I was a big fan of the mix between the baseball parts and the character development. As a cerebral sports fan, it's great to see that these two things can coexist. Just my two-cents...

Posted on Nov 1, 2011 1:28:07 PM PDT
Your "Hoosiers" reference is spot-on. I invoked "Rudy" along the same lines, disappointed that the "wind-up," if you will (ugh, pun) resolved itself in such a predictable sports-cliche climax at the end. Read that he wrote the book over the span of about 10 years -- you feel that in the devolution toward the end -- impatience, I think, to finally get the project finished.

Posted on Nov 19, 2011 10:25:48 AM PST
Hit a home run with the title. ANY baseball/literature guy would pick it up.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 22, 2012 5:43:30 PM PST
Regarding the misstep of the awful names ~ It's funny, we have Guert, Pella, Skrimshander and then... Mike Schwartz. Almost balances it out.

Posted on Mar 2, 2012 1:25:45 PM PST
I too agree that the beginning 300 ps were better than the last 3 act drag. Unfortunately Chad cannot join the hallowed halls of literary greats because he never saw the characters in his mind's eye. Consequently they did not jump off the page and into my heart. ( Surely the true art of great writing) However, a great first novel, even tho I was left unmoved.
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