We are all familiar with the hype, and praise lauded upon Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg before they signed their major league contracts. What you may not know is that Chad Harbach, author of The Art of Fielding, entered the literary world to similar buildup. With seven publishers battling for the rights to his first book, Harbach signed with Little Brown for $650,000. Multiple weeks upon the New York Times Bestseller list later, Harbach’s novel does not disappoint.
The Art of Fielding begins as a story of Henry Skrimshander, a smooth fielding high school shortstop that doubts he has what it takes to succeed on the next level. We quickly discover that this is a story of friendship, self-awareness, and wading through life’s obstacles, told through the eyes the novels 5 main characters with baseball merely serving as a back drop.
Mike Schwartz, the captain of the Westish College (a small school in Wisconsin) baseball team convinces his coach that their struggling team could really use a slick fielding shortstop like Henry. Out of nowhere, Henry is offered a scholarship to Westish, and with the help of Schwartz garners the attention of MLB agents and scouts. Just as Henry’s ascent to the top reaches its crescendo a unfortuante accident occurs which sets off a chain reaction of life altering events for our 5 subjects. Harbach brings this story to life with suspense and the type of imagery and description novice author’s should not be capable of. For instance, describing the principal of Westish College, Guert Affenlight watching a baseball game from the bleachers Harbach’s words paint a vivid picture of what it must be like to watch a baseball game in the cool March Wisconsin air. He describes it as such:
“Affenlight exhaled and watched his lungs’ CO2 float whitely away. His elbows rested on his knees, his long knobby fingers interlocked. His forearms, hands, and thighs formed a diamond-shaped pond into which his tie dropped like an ice fisher’s line.”
I read that Harbach took 9 years to write his inaugural novel. After reading this I would say this was time well spent. It doesn’t matter if you’re a baseball fan or not, if you’re looking for a good read this book is well worth your time.