book review: the art of fielding

i first saw ‘the art of fielding’ at the bookstore near my apartment in dumbo.  when i picked it up and read the back cover, i decided to pass, mostly because i didn’t feel like reading a book about baseball.  fortunately, however, my book club decided to read this for its august book, and once i started reading, i quickly realized the error of my quick judgment; i absolutely loved this book.  yes, the backdrop of the novel is baseball, but it is so much more than that as well.

the novel takes place at westish college, a small liberal arts school in michigan.  there is a lot going on in this novel, and the story went a much different direction than i originally thought it would take.  when we’re introduced to henry skrimshander, he’s a flawless baseball player who just keeps getting better and better at the game.  i was anticipating a story about his path to fame, but once henry starts to lose confidence and question himself, the novel goes in a completely different direction.  you can’t help but feel bad for henry – i just wanted to shake him and make him get out of his head – but of course this wasn’t possible.  instead, and i just kept reading and hoping things would turn out okay for him.

while henry is fighting his own battle, we’re introduced to the other characters.  mike schwartz is one of those people everyone likes – athletic, hard-working, charismatic – but he’s also wrought with disappointment when he discovers he did not get into graduate school.  his shattered hope corresponds with henry’s failings, and the two friends drift further and further apart – even more so when mike starts dating pella, the college president’s daughter who has recently left her rocky marriage to a much older man.

in a book filled with baseball, pella is a welcome addition.  but like the other characters, she’s much too self-conscious, and is plagued with a history of depression and unhappiness.  she doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life and comes back to westish to try and sort things out.  her father, guert affenlight, the president of westish college, looks forward to repairing his relationship with his daughter, but he unexpectedly  becomes distracted when he falls for henry’s roommate, owen.  as would be expected, a relationship between college president and male student can’t go anywhere but down, and we watch as guert becomes much too careless and preoccupied with owen.

i found all the characters interesting and two-dimensional, and though the book is long, it didn’t drag for me.  i also enjoyed the melvillian references throughout the novel.  the college’s baseball team is named the harpooners, and the college itself has a melville undertone, complete with a statue of herman himself in the middle of the campus.

overall, this book is not to be missed.  highly recommended.

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