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The Art of Fielding: A Novel Paperback – May 1, 2012
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, September 2011: Though The Art of Fielding is his fiction debut, Chad Harbach writes with the self-assurance of a seasoned novelist. He exercises a masterful precision over the language and pacing of his narrative, and in some 500 pages, there's rarely a word that feels out of place. The title is a reference to baseball, but Harbach's concern with sports is more than just a cheap metaphor. The Art of Fielding explores relationships--between friends, family, and lovers--and the unpredictable forces that complicate them. There's an unintended affair, a post-graduate plan derailed by rejection letters, a marriage dissolved by honesty, and at the center of the book, the single baseball error that sets all of these events into motion. The Art of Fielding is somehow both confident and intimate, simple yet deeply moving. Harbach has penned one of the year's finest works of fiction.--Kevin Nguyen--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"Chad Harbach has hit a game-ender with The Art of Fielding. It's pure fun, easy to read, as if the other Fielding had a hand in it--as if Tom Jones were about baseball and college life."―John Irving
"An intricate, poised, tingling debut. Harbach's muscular prose breathes new life into the American past-time, recasts the personal worlds that orbit around it, and leaves you longing, lingering, and a baseball convert long after the last page."―Téa Obreht, author of The Tiger's Wife
"The Novel of the
Month Season Year.... Riveting...[The Art of Fielding] emerges fully formed, a world unto itself. Harbach writes with a tender, egoless virtuosity...There's just something so easy and riveting about the way this book's layers unfold; not since Lonesome Dove have I been so sorry to let a group of characters go."―Andres Corsello, GQ
"One of those rare novels - like Michael Chabon's Mysteries of Pittsburgh or John Irving's The World According to Garp - that seems to appear out of nowhere, and then dazzles and bewitches and inspires, until you nearly lose your breath from the enjoyment and satisfaction, as well as the unexpected news-blast that the novel is very much alive and well."―James Patterson
"Spectacular! The Art of Fielding is a wise, warm-hearted, self-assured, and fiercely readable debut, which heralds the coming of a young American writer to watch....You won't want this book to end."―Jonathan Evison
"When the best shortstop alive sounds believably like a Tibetan lama, and when a thrown ball striking a shovel head at dawn leaves your own head ringing with certainty that truth and friendship have triumphed, you know you're in the hands of a writer you can trust."―David James Duncan
"Not being a huge fan of the national pastime, I found it easy to resist the urge to pick up this novel, but once I did I gave myself over completely and scarcely paused for meals. Like all successful works of literature The Art of Fielding is an autonomous universe, much like the one we inhabit although somehow more vivid."―Jay McInerney, author of Bright Lights, Big City and How It Ended
"Beautifully made, surpassingly human, and quietly subversive, The Art of Fielding restores one's faith in the national pastime--i.e., reading and writing novels."―Benjamin Kunkel, author of Indecision
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Ultimately, though, I found the plot unconvincing and the characters unnatural. People just do not behave the way the characters in the book behave. It doesn't happen. I won't spoil it for you, if you are actually interested in reading the book, by detailing the ways in which the characters are skewed. But they are.
Beyond that, some of the plot elements are trite in the extreme, and the foreshadowing is more like that blinking neon light on an airplane directing you to the exit.
Another reviewer says it doesn't stand up to baseball books like The Natural. I'd add Bang the Drum Slowly to that list.
His approach to serving the community moves me, a school counselor, to look to possibilities in my own field that will make me more involved in the lives of our kids and is a reminder to be open to new ideas. He reminds us that an adventure in change is seldom easy, but that this shouldn’t stop us from taking the steps – even if we have to backtrack from time to time.
In life Ron is the creative, persistent experimenter of his book – it’s a creation with real legs and soul.
Middle School Counselor
Singapore American School
While reading The Art of Fielding, I kept trying to find the right word to describe the genre Harbach has invaded. Unable to do so, I’ll simply cite the league that he’s trying out for stars the likes of John Irving and Michael Chabon.
Fielding is built around five characters: Schwartz, a parentless Jew from Chicago, Henry, the presumed protagonist––a kid from nowhere who lives to play baseball, Owen, his gay roommate who is also on the Westish College baseball team; Gert Affenlight, the college’s president and his daughter Pella.
Each is an twenty-first century archetype in the Jungian sense. Had this book been written forty years ago, Schwartz would have a skinny kid escaping the ghetto by his single-minded devotion to baseball and Henry would have been a Polish or Scandinavian jock from the Midwest who sees the potential in Schwartz and nurtures him to success. But this is now and Schwartz is the super jock who picks Henry up by his pint-sized neck and turns him into a phenom, a likely high draft pick, but also someone who doesn’t recognize that his existence is balanced on the knifeblade of perfection.
Had Harbach just given us Henry’s story, this book would have been a nice debut novel, showing promise but not the gravitas to make it the big leagues. Instead Harbach interjects the other three characters into the story, making this a novel, not about baseball or college, but about coming and being an adult. Let’s start with Owen.
Owen is the one character who doesn’t change from start to end. His nickname is Buddha, which tells you all you need to know about his personality. He’s the most perfect character and also the most disappointing.
Henry’s perfection on the ballfield craters when a wind-aided errant throw hits Owen in the face in the dugout where he was as ususal reading a book rather than paying attention to the game. This error snowballs into personal disaster for Henry. He exhibits the inability to make an ordinary throw a la Steve Sax and Chuck Knoblach, but Owen, whose inattention caused the miscue to unsettle Henry, never steps up to the plate to try to help his roommate overcome his crisis of faith.
Owen also enters into an affair with President Affenlight, an affair that comes to a bad end for Affenlight without influencing Owen in any way. In other words, Buddha is not responsible for what happens around him. Maybe in fiction, but . . .
Affenlight’s daughter Pella plays a more complex role in the story. She arrives on campus, escaping from a bad marriage, takes up with Schwartz, enables Henry during his worst days, and then precipitates a denouement where we readers are happy to see three of the characters have survived the crisis, an ending about which the reader is kept in doubt until the last chapter.
The best books about sports are not about sports per se but about how sports colors the world we live in. Sports often mislead young people into ignoring important questions about who they are and how they plan to manage in a world where the difference between winning and losing can be determined by the direction of the wind.
The Art of Fielding is also about death and souls as Owen reminds us at the end, referring to a lesson that President Affenlight taught him. “You told me once that a soul isn’t something a person is born with but something that must be built, by effort and error, study and love.” Other than Owen whose soul is timeless, the souls of Schwartz, Henry, Pella and even Affenlight grow stronger in the pages of The Art of Fielding, teaching us that some things are worth the effort, even if they don’t turn out perfect.
But, also in telling a coworker the plot, I felt like she looked at me like a questioning dog with head cocked at an angle, just not finding the hook that she'd need to read this book in particular.
That said, I just really liked it. I liked all the characters. I liked the setting. Yeah, sure, some of the twists might be unbelievable or as someone said "oh, no, you didn't just go there," I was happy reading it. Some of these characters will stay with me. The wording, timing, twists, all made sense to me and I bought into all of it.
I am recommending it to my friends who read. I'll see what they think. But, to me, it matters not since I really, really liked this book.
Most recent customer reviews
I really got involved in Henry's saga