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THE ART OF FIELDING by Chad Harbach

I may have been the last person on the planet to read The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach, but I finally did. The 500+ page book slowed me down quite a bit this month. Unlike most people who have read it, I liked it, but didn’t love it.

The Art of Fielding revolves around a baseball team at a fictional Wisconsin liberal arts college. The main characters are Henry Skrimshander, a baseball phenomenon from South Dakota who is headed to the majors (or is he?); Mike Schwartz, the team’s captain; Owen Dunne, Henry’s room- and teammate; Guert Affenlight, the college’s president; and Pella Affenlight, the president’s daughter. There is a fair amount of baseball in the book – which I liked – but not enough to turn off non-baseball fans.

Ultimately, The Art of Fielding is about relationships and how loyalty can be tested and proven over the course of challenges and setbacks. It is also about coming to terms with who you are, especially when you turn out to be someone different from who you thought. People bill it as a coming-of-age novel, but I didn’t really see it that way. College was more of a backdrop for the story than a meaningful setting that guided the plot, and one of the main characters is in his 60s. It’s really about a pivotal year in the lives of five people and how they were challenged and tried to figure out where and how they fit in.

People have been raving about The Art of Fielding ever since it came out. I don’t quite understand why. The writing is quite good, and Harbach is very clever with his turns of phrase. But overall I found the book pretty slow. I had no problem putting it down. I found some of the dialogue and details to be implausible, and I kept asking, “Don’t these characters interact with ANYONE other than the other four?”  I was moved by some of the characters’ predicaments, but I was also frustrated by how they chose to deal with their situations. It was an interesting story, but I think it fell flat. In the end, this book just didn’t do it for me the way it did it for others.

The reviews are so overwhelmingly positive for The Art of Fielding that I urge you not to rely on my opinion on this one. Give it a try, if you’re one of the few who hasn’t already.