The Art of Fielding

Chad Harbach

The Art of Fielding

In The Art of Fielding, we see young men who know that their four years on the baseball diamond at Westish College are all that remain of their sporting careers. Only their preternaturally gifted fielder, Henry Skrimshander, seems to have the chance to keep his dream – and theirs, vicariously – alive, until a routine throw goes disastrously off course, and the fates of five people are upended. After his throw threatens to ruin his roommate Owen’s future, Henry’s fight against self-doubt threatens to ruin his; while Mike Schwartz, the team captain and Henry’s best friend, realizes he has guided Henry’s career at the expense of his own. Keeping a keen eye on them all, college president Guert Affenlight, a longtime bachelor, falls unexpectedly and dangerously in love, much to the surprise of his daughter, Pella, who has returned to Westish after escaping an ill-fated marriage, determined to start a new life. 3.7 out of 5 based on 17 reviews
The Art of Fielding

Omniscore:

Classification Fiction
Genre General Fiction
Format Hardcover
Pages 450
RRP £16.99
Date of Publication January 2012
ISBN 978-0007374441
Publisher Fourth Estate
 

In The Art of Fielding, we see young men who know that their four years on the baseball diamond at Westish College are all that remain of their sporting careers. Only their preternaturally gifted fielder, Henry Skrimshander, seems to have the chance to keep his dream – and theirs, vicariously – alive, until a routine throw goes disastrously off course, and the fates of five people are upended. After his throw threatens to ruin his roommate Owen’s future, Henry’s fight against self-doubt threatens to ruin his; while Mike Schwartz, the team captain and Henry’s best friend, realizes he has guided Henry’s career at the expense of his own. Keeping a keen eye on them all, college president Guert Affenlight, a longtime bachelor, falls unexpectedly and dangerously in love, much to the surprise of his daughter, Pella, who has returned to Westish after escaping an ill-fated marriage, determined to start a new life.

Read an extract from the book on The New York Times website

Reviews

The New York Times

Gregory Cowles

The Art of Fielding is surprisingly old-fashioned and almost freakishly well behaved. There’s some strained humor in the early going, when Harbach seems unsure of his register, but once he settles into a mildly satiric mode of psychological realism — the mode of latter-day Jonathan Franzen, rather than the high turbulence of David Foster Wallace — the book assumes an attractive, and fitting, 19th-century stateliness.

09/09/2011

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The New York Times

Michiko Kakutami

Mr. Harbach manages in these pages to make the philosophical aspects of baseball thoroughly palpable and real. He makes us feel what baseball means to his characters on the most visceral level, while at the same time conveying a highly immediate sense of the game’s drama to even the most sports-agnostic of readers.

05/09/2011

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The Daily Telegraph

Elena Seymenliyska

Once started, The Art of Fielding is a book you want to read and read. It is deliciously old-fashioned: it simply gets on with the business of creating vivid, layered characters and telling a good, engrossing story. There’s no fancy writing, or literary in-jokes (well, maybe a few bookish nods and winks, but you don’t need a PhD to get them), or postmodern cleverness.

11/01/2012

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The Times

Mike Atherton

He wears his learning more lightly than Franzen (although learned types will recognise all kinds of literary references) has a sharper feel for the rhythm of language on the page and is more content to let the narrative take its course. This is an outstanding novel about sport and, in Henry Skrimshander, Harbach has created a character who will keep sports psychologists in conversation for years.

02/01/2012

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The Washington Post

Dennis Drabelle

Some passages in the novel run too long … But for the most part, Harbach’s hand is sure. He gives depth to both Westish College and Guert by bringing in Herman Melville, who once lectured on campus ... These echoes of the 19th-century greats lend unexpected richness to a book that ends up high in the standings.

06/09/2011

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Times Literary Supplement

Alex Clark

The Art of Fielding did not end up much like a novel by DFW, nor, despite its length and large cast of characters, like a Franzen-style panoramic comedy. Determinedly old-fashioned and happy to accommodate hefty portions of sentiment and melodrama, it brings to mind Owen’s mother’s description of Westish as “so . . . nineteenth century”. As in any ball game, it’s too early to tell, but it seems unlikely that a much more enjoyable novel will emerge in the near future.

25/01/2012

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The New Yorker

Wyatt Mason

Perhaps the most unusual feature of this unusually charming début is the easy, unpretentious way it has of joining a love of baseball with a love of literature. There’s a pattern of Melvillian references that run playfully and purposefully through the novel.

12/09/2011

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The Daily Telegraph

Adam O’Riordan

What in less skilled hands might have been a light comic novel evolves into a debut of great warmth and weight. As the pages glide by it proves a comfortable, well-built American machine of a novel. The book was reportedly nine years in the writing. And it shows.

18/01/2011

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The Observer

Adam Mars-Jones

The Art of Fielding cross-breeds two genres with limited gene pools, the baseball novel and the campus novel, and comes up with a vigorous hybrid, entertaining and engrossing, though almost absurdly high-minded. There are only a few passages of unrelieved sporting technicality ("Rick O'Shea laced a one-hopper to the Amherst third baseman, who set in motion an easy double play") and even these are supported by the emotional narrative.

29/01/2012

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The London Review of Books

J. Robert Lennon

Harbach is a solid writer, inoffensively funny, pretty good at character, a prodigy at suspense. The book’s great success, though, is its charm: its eagerness to please, its casual, wholesome seductiveness. Despite predictability in the plot and lapses in the writing, it’s the charm that keeps one going. Who the hell bothers to be charming anymore? Chad Harbach, that’s who ... But it could have been better. It could have given the designated mourners, tenured or not, a little more to chew on. It could have done something unexpected, something uncanny. It could have risked making its readers angry.

26/01/2012

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The Sunday Times

Andrew Holgate

Readers will not find too much to challenge them in The Art of Fielding. Some may object to its thoroughly traditional feel, or accuse it of corniness. But it wears its heart on its sleeve, is genuinely affecting, and shouldn’t be judged in terms of the frankly ridiculous hype that accompanied its American publication.

15/01/2012

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The Spectator

Eric Weinberger

Harbach is a first novelist working skilfully with some of the archetypes of American literature — the campus novel, the Midwestern small-town or young man’s coming-of-age story, the shadow of Herman Melville who, to some, began it all — and his hands, unlike Henry’s, are nimble from start to end.

07/01/2012

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The Guardian

Theo Tait

The plot perhaps cleaves too closely to the generic conventions of the team sports movie, right down to the climactic scene where everything depends on one moment's play. And the characters tend towards the wish-fulfilment end of the spectrum … But in general the effect is pretty much irresistible. Harbach's writing has been frequently compared to Franzen's, and shares an intelligent, unaffected directness. The Art of Fielding also has a similar post-postmodern, post-ironic appeal to Franzen's novels: it creates a richly peopled world that you can fully inhabit in your mind, and to which you long to return when you put it down.

12/01/2012

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The Independent

Nat Segnit

The difficulty with the book's debt to Melville is akin to Henry's dependence on Schwartz: it both liberates their potential and deprives them of air. Clearly, with the sundry Melvilleania, Harbach is poking justifiable fun at the literary heritage industry, but at times the book is guilty of what it seeks to satirise: the fetishisation of an influence at the expense of its more subtle diffusion. For instance, the fantastical climax, set on the lake overlooked by Melville's stony gaze, provides a pleasing jolt in tonal terms, but you know that all considerations of psychological realism have been cast aside in favour of shapeliness. The scene is there because it fits the novel's schema: the final piece of a jigsaw.

13/01/2012

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The Independent on Sunday

Robert Epstein

This is by no means a Great American Novel ... The themes are lightweight and the conclusion too mid-afternoon, made-for-TV movie. But it is a Very Good American Novel, and an impressively ambitious debut that deserves to be read by more than just the baseball-loving market.

15/01/2012

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The Literary Review

Jonathan Beckman

The book is slowly clubbed into fatuity by Harbach’s determination to obliterate ambiguity and implication ... Nonetheless, this goofy novel is compulsively readable (an epithet now encumbered with literary politics). Like Franzen, Chad Harbach can spool out plot and haul the reader along in his wake. The ending takes an unexpected and comic gothic twist, which leaves one hoping that he will one day tell a story with a little more élan.

01/01/2012

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The Daily Mail

Stephanie Cross

This is pure literary ‘bromance’ - all Harbach’s guys are noticeably good ones - and while there’s a lot to enjoy, there’s no real sense of urgency to proceedings. As a result, the end product is less epic voyage, a la Moby Dick, more an amiable cruise.

03/02/2012

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