Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding was famous even before anyone had laid eyes on the manuscript. Thanks to a massive advance, the coming-of-age story, about a college baseball team in a small Wisconsin town, became the most anticipated novel of the year.
Incredibly, The Art of Fielding lives up to the hype. The narrative orbits around gifted, rail-thin shortstop Henry Skrimshander, who suffers a sporting meltdown, but as with all great novels, it’s about so much more.
Skrimshander isn’t alone in being affected by the loss of his prowess; it is felt by everyone in the small community built around the Westish College Harpooners, including the never-say-die team captain, Mike Schwartz; the philosopher-poet in left field, Owen Dunne; and school president Guert Affenlight. As the narrative turns toward the season’s vital final game, Harbach’s prose is considered, clean and pastoral, and he makes
it easy to root for each of his characters.
The Art of Fielding is a decidedly American story, impeccably told. Skrimshander’s pride, his struggle to regain his confidence and his dreams of a comeback will resonate with anyone drawn to smart, funny, engaging writing. Admittedly, baseball fans will find this novel comes right down the middle of their strike zone. But it’s such a rich and occasionally heartbreaking experience, others will not only realise where their strike zone is, but they’ll let Harbach paint the corners for them.