Chad Harbach | 2011| 528 pages
The Art of Fielding is Chad Harbach’s debut novel chronicling the lives of those close to the baseball program at the fictional Westish College on the shores of Lake Michigan. The book’s main protagonist, Henry Skrimshander, is a gifted shortstop with a wicked attachment disorder with the team’s boisterous leader and catcher Mike Schwarz. When an unheard-of errant throw of Henry’s places another of his teammates in the hospital, it sets off series of complications are set off which serve, through the metaphor of sport, to talk to the reader about relationships, growing old, and letting go.
This all sounds formulaic, but Harbach weaves a story of exceptional depth and nuance while maintaining a level of readability somewhat rare for a 500-page narrative of significant complexity. Maybe I was a little drawn to the story because I personally endured a case of the Yips [a mental block which causes a player to literally forget how to throw, or putt, or shoot, or whatever, for an extended period; more] during a high school baseball championship run, and Henry’s struggles with the ball- and the tentacles such struggles can have into the psyche of a young man when his life revolves around baseball- were relatable. As the book works toward a satisfying close, Harbach deftly delivers an unambiguous message about, well, closure that leaves an impression.
On balance, Fielding is a book about youth, baseball and redemption, but it’s also about priorities and the inevitability of change in human life. A nice read.