Release date: This UK paperback 16th April 2012
Genre: Modern Fiction / Sport Fiction / Contemporary
Target audience: Adult
UK Publisher: HarperCollins (4th Estate Imprint)
I found The Art of Fielding on the London Underground. Or rather I saw a big poster advertising it and the cover caught my attention – it just screamed American college students. I made a mental note of the title so that I could look it up when I got home. As soon as I read the blurb, I knew I had to have it. Also there was a quote on the front from Jonathan Frazen who has this special skill for finding outstanding books. My next stop is to read a book by Mr Franzen. Anyway, all this is the story which brought me to be reading this adult novel about baseball, about relationships between people and about identity.
The story is told in the third person viewpoint (almost omniscient) following five main characters as they make their way through life at Westish College. First up is Mike Schwartz – he is on both the football team and the baseball team. The thing about Mike is that he has this knack of being able to get people to do whatever he wants. You could say he has the gift of the gab but it’s more than that. He’s passionate about winning and he manoeuvres people into making them make choices that he wants them to make. He’s not a star player, he’s not an academic genius but he gets people. I think I liked Mike best of all. But I started out being Henry’s fan. Henry Skrimshander lives for only one thing – baseball. His school days are nearly over and he thinks his dream of being a baseball star is over but then he meets Mike Schwartz.
Mike observes Henry in action after a game. Henry is a shortstop. (If like me you don’t have a clue about baseball, don’t worry. You can still figure out the essential stuff.) Mike does his thing and Henry ends out going to Westish. When he gets there he meets his roommate, Owen Dunne. He too is on the baseball team. He earned his place at Westish after winning an Award. He’s a literary intellectual. Owen helps Henry navigate college life. He is perhaps more of a “knowing” character than the others. He gives off an air of self-confidence and being comfortable in his own skin which the others do not.
Our final two characters are father and daughter. Guert Affenlight is the president of the college. He was once a Harvard professor but he is Westish through and through. His estranged daughter Pella, 23, arrives having left her husband without telling him. Their two lives become intertwined with our three baseball heroes and their ambitions.
Harbach’s characterisation is so detailed that it makes you feel every emotion and believe every sentiment. It is as if you live these five lives as you read and become at one with the story. You live the highs and the lows of college life. I haven’t mentioned the plot and that’s because this is a novel about characters – if you need a plot, then it’s centred upon them following their dreams and the difficulties they face in trying to make them come true. That sounds so clichéd but it really isn’t. This is not a Hollywood movie.
I love this book. I love the setting of Westish. I love the characters and their quirks. I love the literary references to Moby Dick. This is a debut novel and that makes me sad because I want to read another book by Chad Harbach. When I voiced this to my husband, he said “but that means you have so much to look forward to. All the books he’s yet to write”. I guess he’s right.
Recommended for fans of:
· Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld
Source: Bought from Amazon