Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Quick Review: The Art of Fielding (Chad Harbach)

i didn't know much about The Art of Fielding before i picked it up.  i heard there was a new baseball novel out there getting rave reviews and on that alone it became a no-brainer purchase.

i've read a few baseball novels in my life that had some real literary merit, most notably the excellent The Brothers K by David James Duncan.  i'd formed a certain expectation going into this one.  and as i began reading this book, i settled in quite nicely.  it wasn't too long before i realized this wasn't just a baseball book, but also a love story (and a generation spanning, all-male one at that).  the book read well, flowed well and the stories were interesting.  as the book went on, the whole thing started to unravel for me, however.

a few things of note:

1. most of the characters in this book are underdeveloped and it's hard to decide whether you like them at all.  i'd say the focal point of this story is Mike Schwartz, father figure, coach and the glue that binds all the characters together.  he is certainly likeable, and i think the story really could have benefited from being about HIM.

2. the connections drawn between the characters in this story are absolutely ridiculous.  the dean of a college that mike recruits henry to play baseball for falls in love with henry's pot-smoking, liberal and gay roomate who also happens to half-heartedly play on the baseball team.  as if that weren't enough, the dean's daughter starts a relationship with mike and some others and somehow this whole gang just pushes forward like a giant iceberg needing to be broken up throughout this story.

3. the relationships in this book are shallow and superficial.  i don't "get" or "believe" any of them.  because of that, and because of #2, i don't "believe" this story at all.

4. the baseball story, and particular the baseball writing, can be very nice at times...  the descriptions, especially of henry's movements on the field and the way he plays are very engaging.

5. the literary references are insightful and welcome.

6. the dean (affenflight) is a very interesting character...  but nothing in his build up or in the description of his character can have me believing he fell for owen (henry's roomate).

7. the tidiness of things in this story is disappointing...  why do things wrap up so nicely?  is this a fairytale?  even if the ending is unexpected, the twists seem forced and it doesn't change the readers ability to predict how the other pieces will fall.

all in all, if you would have asked me how i felt about this book after the first half (maybe even further into it than that), i would have said i really liked it.  i mean, i read the whole thing in just a few nights.  and i cannot complain about the prose... the writing itself is very good.  i also credit harbach for tackling the interesting juxtaposition of a bromance coupled with a baseball story.  but i don't think he achieved his goal of making this a believable story, one that i could buy into, emotionally invest in.  for as much as i liked the first part of this book, the second part has completely overshadowed the opinion i take away from it.


  1. I did love the first half of the book but it lost some of it's allure in the second half and I ended up just liking the book rather than thinking it was fantastic. The character I liked least was Pella. I actually thought the love story between Affenlight and Owen was believable. I thought it was daring for Harbach to write such a story as well as Henry's own story of losing his talent and turning down the lucrative offers. It's certainly a different book because of all these themes.

  2. Good review! I felt the same way about the book.