The Art of Fielding

When you write about a terrific novel that has baseball as one of its central themes, you feel compelled to toss in a phrase like “really hits a homerun.”

Trite as that may be, it applies to Chad Harbach’s debut novel, The Art of Fielding. But the book is about more than just the national past time. It is also about love, death, family, friendship, betrayal, forgiveness, passion, obsession, and Midwest values—with a little bit of Moby Dick on the side.

The book, beautifully written and not without humor, takes place on the campus of Westish College, a fictional private school located near Door County, Wisconsin. Get your pencils and scorecards ready for an all-star roster of unforgettable characters. The 60-year-old college president, Guert Affenlight, is also a Herman Melville scholar. His prodigal daughter Pella has recently left her husband in California with the intention of finally taking a college class or two at Westish. Other students at the school, as well as major characters in the book, are Chicagoan and all-around athlete Mike Schwartz, gay ballplayer Owen Dunne, and gifted shortstop Henry Skrimshander.

Against a literary backdrop, all these characters relate significantly to one another: Mike falls for Pella; Pella loves Mike, but she is jealous of his relationship with Henry, then sleeps with shortstop; Henry admires and rooms with Owen, whose mother is attracted to Guert; Owen becomes Guert’s obsession. Serving almost like an additional major character is a manual for baseball and life called “The Art of Fielding,” written by fictitious Aparicio Rodriguez, a Hall of Famer and St. Louis Cardinals shortstop, who is Henry’s ideal and whose record he is trying to break. Will he do it? Will his friendship with Mike be repaired? Will Pella finally connect with her father? Will her father’s passion for Owen be returned, and will it be discovered by the school administration? Will these characters haunt you? “Yes” to the last question, but enjoy the book to find out the other answers.

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