Book Review – THE ART OF FIELDING by Chad Harbach

The Art of Fielding by Chad HarbachThe Art of Fielding Synopsis :

At Westish College, a small school on the shore of Lake Michigan, baseball star Henry Skrimshander seems destined for big league stardom. But when a routine throw goes disastrously off course, the fates of five people are upended.

Henry’s fight against self-doubt threatens to ruin his future. College president Guert Affenlight, a longtime bachelor, has fallen unexpectedly and helplessly in love. Owen Dunne, Henry’s gay roommate and teammate, becomes caught up in a dangerous affair. Mike Schwartz, the Harpooners’ team captain and Henry’s best friend, realizes he has guided Henry’s career at the expense of his own. And Pella Affenlight, Guert’s daughter, returns to Westish after escaping an ill-fated marriage, determined to start a new life.

As the season counts down to its climactic final game, these five are forced to confront their deepest hopes, anxieties, and secrets. In the process they forge new bonds, and help one another find their true paths. Written with boundless intelligence and filled with the tenderness of youth, The Art of Fielding is an expansive, warmhearted novel about ambition and its limits, about family and friendship and love, and about commitment — to oneself and to others.

(Little, Brown and Company)


Would I have read Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding had ‘sports fiction’ not been a category in a reading challenge? Unlikely… I know very little about baseball. Am I glad I did? Absolutely.

But baseball was different. Schwartz thought of it as Homeric – not a scrum but a series of isolated contests. Batter versus pitcher, fielder versus ball. You couldn’t storm around, snorting and slapping people, the way Schwartz did while playing football. You stood and waited and tried to still your mind. When your moment came, you had to be ready, because if you (f#&ked) up, everyone would know whose fault it was. What other sport not only kept a stat as cruel as the error but posted it on the scoreboard for everyone to see?”

The Art of Fielding is as much a story about literature as it is about sport. It is a story about struggling with our demons, our hopes and fears – a story of personal challenges and opportunities for growth throughout all our lives, no matter what our station or how long those lives may be. The sporting field is merely one of the many public arenas this metaphor is played out.

Literature could turn you into an asshole. He’d learned that teaching grad-school seminars. It could teach you to treat real people the way you did characters, as instruments of your own intellectual pleasure, cadavers on which to practice your critical faculties.

The phrase ‘great American novel‘ is bandied around a lot in respect to this title. I am in no way shape or form an expert on what that means, but will say The Art of Fielding does exhibit a sense of maturity and gravitas. Its themes are wide-ranging and universally applicable, and most importantly its strong ensemble cast of characters are memorable.

This novel actually broadened my appreciation of the American canon, particularly the work of Herman Melville. Am pleased to say it was a pain-free lesson in the rules of baseball too.

In a humble and unassuming manner, much like its characters, Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding inspires. It highlights the opportunity each and every one of us has to lead fulfilling lives by influencing the lives of others in a positive way, whether in the present or through our legacy. The latter I know is a term almost derided on occasion these days… unfairly so in my opinion.

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. And you did that with more dedication than most, that work of building a soul-not for your own benefit but for the benefit of those that knew you.

A strong first innings from Chad Harbach.

BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
Available from:
Book Depository | AmazonKobobooks Booktopia(Aus)

Genre: Drama, Romance, Literature

This review counts towards my participation in the Eclectic Reader Challenge 2015

Many more quotable passages from The Art of Fielding can be found at Goodreads.

Author Information: 

Chad Harbach grew up in Wisconsin and was educated at Harvard and the University of Virginia. He is a cofounder and coeditor of n+1.

Other reviews of The Art of Fielding: The Guardian; New York Times; London Review of Books; Biblioklept

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