Friday, November 25, 2011

Book Review: "The Art of Fielding" by Chad Harbach

It has been said that "baseball is life." Whether or not you agree with this statement, for the characters in Chad Harbach's fantastic new novel, The Art of Fielding, baseball may not be life, but it certainly is at the crux of their lives.

Henry Skrimshander is a scrawny, aspiring baseball player whose effortless talent during a summer league game attracts the attention of Mike Schwartz, an athlete at Westish College, located on the shores of Lake Michigan. Mike gets Henry enrolled at Westish and becomes his mentor, coach, torturer, and biggest advocate, and Henry finds himself turning into a superstar, being mentioned as an early draft pick in the major leagues. And then one errant throw sets a chain of events in motion that affects the lives of not only Henry and Mike, but also Guert Affenlight, Westish's president, who finds himself caught in the grips of an obsession he never imagined; Pella Affenlight, Guert's daughter, who returns to Westish after escaping an impulsive marriage, and wants to start anew; and Owen Dunne, Henry's roommate. This is a book about baseball that transcends the sport itself—it is a book about how frightening realizing your dreams, and falling short of them, can be.

Amazon chose The Art of Fielding as its best book of 2011. And while I'm not ready to bestow that title on it just yet, I can unequivocally say it's one of the best books I've read this year. Harbach has created an unforgettable bunch of characters, and while the situations he puts them in may not be unique, the way he tells their stories and how they handle what comes their way is truly fantastic. He is a terrific writer and at times, a sentence or two would make me pause and read it again, just to marvel at his word choices. This is a book of over 500 pages that read like a much shorter novel, yet when I finished it, I wished I had more of it to savor. Truly fantastic.

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