The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
This is flat-out a great book. It took the author ten years to write in his spare time. When the manuscript was put up for auction the price was bid up to $650,000 dollars. There even was a book published about the making and marketing of this book, entitled: Vanity Fair’s How a Book is Born: The Making of the Art of Fielding.
The plot centers around the struggles of the main characters on a baseball team at Westish College called the Harpooners. Henry Skrimshander is a preternaturally gifted shortstop who is recruited out of High School by Mike Schwartz, the Harpooners’ catcher. Although Henry is brilliant on the baseball field, he is shy and introverted and has a hard time adjusting to college life. Also in the mix is Guert Affenlight, the College President, whose staid life is upended by an unexpected romance with one the students. The student in question happens to be Owen Dunne, a gay intellectual, who also happens to play on the team. Pella Affenlight is Guert’s daughter from a previous relationship who shows up on Daddy’s doorstep after a marriage that goes sour.
According to Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times: Mr. Harbach has the rare abilities to write with earnest, deeply felt emotion without veering into sentimentality, and to create quirky, vulnerable, and fully realized characters who instantly take up residence in our hearts and minds. He also manages to rework the well-worn, much allegorized subject of baseball and make us see it afresh, taking tired tropes about the game (as a metaphor for life’s dreams, disappointments, and hopes of redemption) and interjecting them with new energy.
I enjoyed this book for its small college setting, and for the baseball stuff, but mainly for the affecting characters. I did not want this novel to end.