Book Review: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

As a reminder, I call them book reviews but there more like book reactions. There are a million reviews online that really dissect books and do so with more talent than I could ever muster.

The Art of Fielding
by Chad Harbach

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’ 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.

Since it’s what you’ll want to know, we’ll start here: You do NOT have to like or follow baseball to like this book.

Perfect baseball. Messy life. Haven’t we all been there? Where one aspect of our is going pretty damned well and the rest is this total cluster? That’s where most of our characters are when we meet them.

How do you deal with your first major failure in life? How do you react? What do you do to fix it? How do you overcome it? Do you learn from it? The Art of Fielding shows us very real reactions from Henry, Mike, and company.

Great storytelling. All the characters felt fully developed.

I wasn’t left feeling like we didn’t get to know anyone as well as was needed. I could’ve used a little more insight into Henry, since it’s he’s sort of the center of the world that Chad Harbach had created.

This doesn’t read like a first novel. Everything is tightened up and feels like it’s there for a reason. So often, books that are deemed “popular” and are 500+ pages have a lot filler and are in need of a good editor. That’s not the case with this book. I felt as if things were revealed in a timely fashion and when they were needed, without feeling expected or boring. It was simply done…well.

It was well written.
Well thought out.
Well edited.

It wasn’t some mind-blowing book that I would tell someone they simply MUST read. It’s not a must-read. It’s a well written book. The characters are well developed, they feel natural. There’s not a lot of “OF COURSE! Only in a book would that happen!” With five main characters, it would be really easy for a first time novelist to leave the reader with a piece that feels jumbled and messy. Harbach doesn’t fall into that trap. These characters have good qualities and bad qualities and the author doesn’t shy away from their faults and mistakes.

The Art of Fielding feels like an old book. I mean that in a good way. There are those old novels that are character studies, with fantastically built people with moral arcs that are the focus more so than the plot. I don’t feel like we get a lot of these today. The ones I have read have been less than stellar attempts to create (or recreate) a thought instead of feeling natural.

There was a part that I really did NOT like, but it was so small it didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. The doctor that Mike finally talks to instantly brands his relationship with Schwartz as unhealthy. My reaction probably has more to do with my feelings on psychiatrists as a whole, but it felt like a violation of the relationship that we, as the reader, had come to know through the previous 350 pages. A minor squabble, but it drove me nuts for some reason.

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