by Jalen Eutsey, Librarian
The Art of Fielding is a long, unabashed ode to baseball, to writing, to the reward of work itself, and to family, particularly the families we choose for ourselves.
Chad Harbach gets so much right in this novel, his 2011 debut. He perfectly describes Major League scouts as “leisurely CIA agents on their off-day,” with their laptops and laptop cases, team branded polo-shirts, radar guns, and clipboards, their business-casual slacks and wrap-around Oakley sunglasses—always Oakley’s. Descriptions like these are sure to leave you buzzing with nostalgia.
The book seems to say, come to be reminded of your beleaguered pot-bellied coaches, with their asinine aphorisms, or their soft-spoken poignancies; enjoy the spit puddles, sunflower-seed piles, all the elaborate routines and handshakes, the ticks of superstition, and the nicknames. But stay for the heart-rending explorations of human life—how one forms an individual identity independent of their self-appointed life coach, independent of their parents, or the game they’ve given their life to, independent even of their past mistakes.
The book follows five characters—Guert Affenlight, his daughter Pella Affenlight, Owen Dunne, Mike Schwartz, and Henry Skrimschander—through their intertwined journeys on the campus of Westish College, a small, fictional liberal arts college in Northern Wisconsin on the shore of Lake Michigan.
As is apt for a baseball tale, the story spins into high gear after an errant throw. When Henry’s first error in three years hits his roommate Owen Dunne in the head, sending him to the hospital, the lives of all five characters come colliding together in unexpected ways.
I won’t spoil the conclusion, but this is a great listen if you’re longing for sports, or just a consuming distraction.