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The Art of Fielding
Cover of The Art of Fielding
The Art of Fielding
A Novel
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At Westish College, a small school on the shore of Lake Michigan, baseball star Henry Skrimshander seems destined for big league stardom. But when a routine throw goes disastrously off course, the...
At Westish College, a small school on the shore of Lake Michigan, baseball star Henry Skrimshander seems destined for big league stardom. But when a routine throw goes disastrously off course, the...
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  • At Westish College, a small school on the shore of Lake Michigan, baseball star Henry Skrimshander seems destined for big league stardom. But when a routine throw goes disastrously off course, the fates of five people are upended.

    Henry's fight against self-doubt threatens to ruin his future. College president Guert Affenlight, a longtime bachelor, has fallen unexpectedly and helplessly in love. Owen Dunne, Henry's gay roommate and teammate, becomes caught up in a dangerous affair. Mike Schwartz, the Harpooners' team captain and Henry's best friend, realizes he has guided Henry's career at the expense of his own. And Pella Affenlight, Guert's daughter, returns to Westish after escaping an ill-fated marriage, determined to start a new life.

    As the season counts down to its climactic final game, these five are forced to confront their deepest hopes, anxieties, and secrets. In the process they forge new bonds, and help one another find their true paths. Written with boundless intelligence and filled with the tenderness of youth, The Art of Fielding is an expansive, warmhearted novel about ambition and its limits, about family and friendship and love, and about commitment--to oneself and to others.

 

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  • Publisher's Weekly

    July 25, 2011
    Recalling works as disparate as Chaim Potok's The Chosen, John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany, and Scott Lasser's Battle Creek, Harbach's big-hearted and defiantly old-fashioned debut demonstrates the rippling effects of a single baseball gone awry. When college shortstop phenom Henry Skrimshander accidentally beans teammate Owen Dunne with a misplaced throw, it starts a chain reaction on the campus of Westish College, "that little school in the crook of the baseball glove that is Wisconsin." Owen is solicitously visited in the hospital by school president Guert Affenlight, a widower, who falls in love with the seductive gay student, a "serious breech of professional conduct" that sends potentially devastating ripples through the school. Affenlight's daughter, Pella, after a failed marriage in San Francisco, returns to become part of a love triangle with Henry and Mike Schwartz, the team captain and Henry's unofficial mentor. And just when Henry's hopes of playing for the St. Louis Cardinals come within reach, he suffers a crisis of confidence, even as his team makes a rousing run at the championship. Through it all, Henry finds inspiration in the often philosophically tinged teachings found in The Art of Fielding ("Death is the sanction of all that the athlete does"), by a fictional retired shortstop. Harbach manages incisive characterizations of his five main players, even as his narrative, overlong and prone to affectation, tests the reader's patience.

  • Kirkus

    August 15, 2011

    An amiable, Middle American, baseball-centric coming-of-age tale.

    Henry Skrimshander seems bound for nowhere special, and fast. He's good enough out on the field, but not quite good enough for the Majors or the Ivy League; as he knows, "College coaches were like girls: their eyes went straight to the biggest, bulkiest guys, regardless of what those guys were really worth." Through good dumb luck, though, catcher Mike Schwartz discovers Henry and gets him a scholarship at Westish College, a middling but OK school up by Lake Michigan, which, though not of Ivy standing, doesn't lack for cliques and cabals. Henry feels somewhat adrift there, though he's steadied by the odd wisdom of the book that gives Harbach's its title. "Death is the sanction of all that the athlete does," runs one of its apothegms, even though death seems less a part of baseball than of, say, bullfighting. Henry's parents are somewhat more than adrift when they learn that he's bunking with a gay roommate who helpfully buys their son clothes so that he can fit in; their small-town heads are in full swoon, but no more than the school's eccentric president, who decides that he might be in love with one of his students at the time that his divorcee adult daughter returns home to whip up storms of the heart all her own. The tale takes turns reminiscent of The World According to Garp, though the influence is incidental; Harbach would seem to owe as much to Twain and Vonnegut as to anyone else. In the end, nothing ever quite turns out like anyone expects, which, as grown-ups know, is the nature of life. The recognition of that truth can lead novelists and their characters into cynicism or lazy contempt, but Harbach's keep both stiff upper lips and smiles on their faces. 

    A promising debut—and one guaranteed to draw attention, for it commanded an unusually big advance and will likely be pushed accordingly. Stay tuned.

    (COPYRIGHT (2011) KIRKUS REVIEWS/NIELSEN BUSINESS MEDIA, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

  • Library Journal

    April 15, 2011

    Having founded the estimable literary journal n + 1, Harbach was ready for the next challenge: his first novel. His hero, Henry Skrimshander, is a rising baseball star at Wetish College whose life goes off course when he throws a wayward ball. Henry starts to doubt himself, even as team captain Mike Schwartz pushes Henry's career. Meanwhile, Henry's gay roommate pursues a risky affair; college president Guert Affenlight falls hopelessly in love; and Guert's daughter, Pella, returns to campus after ending a disastrous marriage. Harbach's smart reputation and obvious sense of whimsy are pluses, and there's that intriguing stack of relationships. Great publisher expectations, too. Check it out.

    Copyright 2011 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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    Little, Brown and Company
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Chad Harbach
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