If it weren't for the Morning News Tournament of Books, I would never have read The Art of Fielding. Baseball? No thanks. But have no fear — it's not really a book about baseball. Henry Skrimshander is a shortstop prodigy who lives and breathes baseball. Luckily, he is talented enough to catch the eye of Mike Schwartz, the de facto student coach of all things sporty at Westish College in Wisconsin. Henry can't believe his luck as he is suddenly accepted into college, playing shortstop for a real team, and about to match the all-time professional record for error-free games. But things never work out this well, do they? What follows is an anxious and uneasy coming-of-age story, which rings absolutely true and comes complete with a shattering identity crisis. Chad Harbach manages to convey the degrading, confusing, and humiliating realities of this period of life, all the while his characters are insinuating themselves thoroughly into your heart. Woven throughout is one of the most truly radiant, yet at the same time, deeply distressing, love stories I've ever come across. Thank you, Tournament of Books, for forcing me to read this! Recommended By Dianah H., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
At Westish College, a small school on the shore of Lake Superior, baseball star Henry Skrimshander seems destined for the big leagues. Then a routine throw goes disastrously off course and the fates of five people are upended.
Henry's life purpose is called into question. Longtime bachelor Guert Affenlight, the college's president, has fallen unexpectedly and helplessly in love. Owen Dunne, Henry's gay roommate and teammate, becomes swept up in a dangerous affair. Mike Schwartz, the 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 to start a new life after escaping an ill-fated marriage.
As the season counts down to its climactic final game, these five confront their deepest hopes, anxieties, and secrets, and help one another to discover 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 the bonds of family and friendship and love, and about commitment — to oneself and to others.
"Recalling works as disparate as Chaim Potok's The Chosen, John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany, and Scott Lasser's Battle Creek, Harbach's big-hearted and defiantly old-fashioned debut demonstrates the rippling effects of a single baseball gone awry. When college shortstop phenom Henry Skrimshander accidentally beans teammate Owen Dunne with a misplaced throw, it starts a chain reaction on the campus of Westish College, 'that little school in the crook of the baseball glove that is Wisconsin.' Owen is solicitously visited in the hospital by school president Guert Affenlight, a widower, who falls in love with the seductive gay student, a 'serious breech of professional conduct' that sends potentially devastating ripples through the school. Affenlight's daughter, Pella, after a failed marriage in San Francisco, returns to become part of a love triangle with Henry and Mike Schwartz, the team captain and Henry's unofficial mentor. And just when Henry's hopes of playing for the St. Louis Cardinals come within reach, he suffers a crisis of confidence, even as his team makes a rousing run at the championship. Through it all, Henry finds inspiration in the often philosophically tinged teachings found in The Art of Fielding ('Death is the sanction of all that the athlete does'), by a fictional retired shortstop. Harbach manages incisive characterizations of his five main players, even as his narrative, overlong and prone to affectation, tests the reader's patience.(Sept.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
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.