2011 Hachette Audio
Reader: Holter Graham
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)
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'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 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.
I love baseball. I grew up on the L.A. Dodgers (Dusty Baker, Ron Cey, Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Don Sutton, Steve Yeager, and Reggie Smith) and the San Diego Padres (Steve Garvey, Garry Templeton, Goose Gossage, Tim Flannery, Kurt Bevacqua, Carmelo Martinez, and Tony Gwynn). When we moved from Lincoln, Nebraska to Fort Worth, Texas, we were thrilled to be near a major league park. It was the summer of '98 and when we weren't watching our beloved Rangers at The Ballpark (in Arlington) or on TV, we were watching the the battle between Mark McGuire & Sammy Sosa. It was a thrilling season and we couldn't get enough.
When we moved back to Lincoln, I had to accept that fact that baseball wasn't going to be as prevalent in my life as it once had been. Sure there's the College World Series (in Omaha) and the Saltdogs (in Lincoln), and K.C. isn't all that far to go to take in a Royal's game, but it just wasn't the same. So the baseball books piled up. I loved Doris Kearns Goodwin's memoir, Wait Till Next Year and added Mike Lupica's Summer of '98 to my stack, along with David Halberstam's October 1964 and Roger Kahn's Memories of Summer. After reading a glowing review for Harbach’s debut novel, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy. I wound up listening to the audio and while I enjoyed the book, I can’t say that I loved it. A few of the situations (a sophomore in complete charge of recruiting a shortstop?!) were implausible and the ridiculous finale caused me to shake my head in disbelief. Several characters disappeared without a trace and some that that didn’t were nothing but cardboard cutouts. The first half of the book held my interest and enthusiasm, but the remainder of the novel was disappointing and I only finished out of curiosity.
Everyone deserves a second chance and Harbach’s prose, which at times was quite lyrical, has convinced me to refrain from complete dismissal of this author’s future works.
Final Thoughts: Fans of John Irving and Jeffrey Eugenides (The Marriage Plot) won’t be disappointed.