The Art of Fielding – Chad Harbach

I read about this novel somewhere and I can’t remember where – possibly The Australian, but I can’t find a review online. I got into the queue at the library and was pleasantly surprised to get an email last week informing me that it was my turn.

Here’s the blurb …

 At Westish College, a small school on the shore of Lake Michigan, baseball star Henry Skrimshander seems destined for the big leagues. Then a routine throw goes disastrously off course and the fates of five people are upended.

Henry’s life purpose is called into question. Longtime bachelor Guert Affenlight, the college’s president, has fallen unexpectedly and helplessly in love. Owen Dunne, Henry’s gay roommate and teammate, becomes swept up in a dangerous affair. Mike Schwartz, the 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 to start a new life after escaping an ill-fated marriage.

As the season counts down to its climactic final game, these five confront their deepest hopes, anxieties, and secrets, and help one another to discover 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 the bonds of family and friendship and love, and about commitment–to oneself and to others.

Now let me just say that I know nothing at all about baseball (just what I’ve learnt from Kevin Costner films), but I stilled enjoyed this novel. It’s about relationships – family, friends, team-mates, lovers etc – how we meet people and how we maintain relationships. What we owe to ourselves and the other people in our lives. It is also about fate or at least the unexpected directions our lives can take. For example, Pella is looking at a glittering future – early acceptance to Yale  and then on to a brilliant career – except she falls in love with an older man drops out of school and at 23 she finds herself in an unhappy marriage five years behind her peers. And Henry who thought his last high school baseball game was his last game ever ends up with a College scholarship and scouts and agents sniffing around.

The characters are brilliant – Henry who was only truly himself on a baseball field, Pella the self-involved princess who over thinks everything and the long-suffering Mike who tries to hold everything together, but at what cost? This novel would definitely benefit from a second reading, but alas, I must return it to the library for the next person.

Here are some more reviews … 

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