Sure, the Astros are miserable this year. Sure, it pretty much feels like baseball season is over and done with. Sure, this book doesn’t even come out until the first week in September. But it’s BASEBALL…can’t get it out of my blood.
I really enjoyed The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, a character-driven novel that revolves around the Westish College baseball team. Westish College is a small school in Wisconsin on the shores of Lake Michigan. The college president, Guert Affenlight, is himself a Westish alum. The division 3 school has never had much athletic success, but Mike Schwartz is determined to captain the baseball team to glory. He recruits Henry Skrimshander, a shortstop who has amazing talent and fields his position with errorless perfection. Henry’s gay roommate, Owen Dunne, plays on the team with almost total detachment, in contrast to Mike’s total commitment. Guert’s daughter, Pella, shows up at Westish mid-semester. Guert has barely spoken to her since she dropped out of high school 4 years earlier to get married. The marriage has failed and Pella is determined to reclaim her life.
On the cusp of setting a new record for consecutive errorless games, Henry makes a wild throw that sets in motion a chain of events that threaten to throw all their lives off-course. I hate to say much more about it. It’s not that there are shocking twists or surprises, the plot is all relatively straight forward, but Harbach does a fabulous job of drawing out these characters for the reader. Why should I tell you about them when he does it so well, telling you just enough at just the right pace. I am totally ready to go visit Westish college and meet all of them.
This book is much more about the characters than the baseball team, so I don’t think you’d have to be a baseball fan to enjoy it, but the baseball aspect is certainly why I picked it up in the first place. This book isn’t for everyone, but if you like character-driven novels (check) and solid writing (check) and most anything about baseball (check), then you’re more like me than you’d probably like to admit and you should read the Art of Fielding.