Tuesday, December 13, 2011

{read: baseball and life}: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach is a slow starter but once it picks up momentum, it keeps rolling until the end. I put it down after about 150 pages and wasn't sure if I'd pick it back up again, but I kept wondering what would happen to the characters, so I decided to finish it and, surprisingly, it's ended up in my favorites list and with a four-star rating. At its heart, this is a story about what you do when the things you planned and hoped and worked for don't happen, told through the story of three college baseball players, a high school dropout, and a college president. How do you deal with defeat? How do you move on to the next stage, and how do you even figure out what's next? The characters of Henry, Pella, Schwartz, and Owen are all very believable and I found myself rooting for them. They showed growth throughout the book, but it was in small, lifelike spurts.

There were also several passages in this book that I made me say, "Yes! That's it!" It made me reflect again on the fact that the best fiction carries truth at its heart. Harbach and his characters gave words to the same things that I've thought or felt but not been able to express so eloquently.

I do have two criticisms to offer. The first is the use of the word "freshpersons" instead of "freshmen." This alone was almost enough to make me stop reading. Luckily, Henry moves on through college and its use becomes less frequent, but it was very jarring to me. It sounded pretentious and threw me out of the story every time I saw it on the page.

The second is the way the situation with Affenlight was resolved. Without giving it away, I'll say that I saw it coming a few pages before and think it was the easy choice. While it may have been a realistic resolution in terms of the plot, I expected better from Harbach by this point in the book. He had already surprised and delighted me a few times and I thought I could count on him not to take the easy out. That being said, this is definitely still a book worth reading with an excellent, pitch-perfect (baseball pun not intended) ending.

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach (Little, Brown and Company, 2011)
My rating: 4 stars

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