The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach was published back in September 2011, but I really started hearing about it during the summer of 2012. It seemed to be the big American novel of the year (err, “the next great American novel”) of 2012 sort of like Freedom by Jonathan Franzen was back in 2010.
I had never really read a long, contemporary piece of American fiction, but this one piqued my interest with a recommendation from the Slate Political Gabfest.
What I Liked
The prose is amazing. The setting is around baseball at a small private college in northern Wisconsin. It’s classic Americana – and if you want to find passages from a great American novel – you’ll find it in here. From the smell of a leather glove to changing autumn leaves on a small college campus, The Art of Fielding has some very memorable lines of prose.
While some of the characters are a bit two dimensional and forced, the author does a solid job of getting into the heads of the main characters. Without giving too much away, the novel revolves around an occurrence of Steve Blass disease, which can be very hard to get right. Chad Harbach sets it up and describes it well.
The Art of Fielding is a very long book, with a very long wind up. That said, I really liked how the author kept things moving, and kept my attention throughout even though it’s not a plot driven novel.
What I Didn’t Like
Even though The Art of Fielding’s main setting is the baseball field. And the main characters are all ball players…it’s not really about baseball. I’m not entirely sure what I expected out of the book – I wasn’t expecting a sports novel. Though I was a bit disappointed at how little actual baseball occurs in the book (especially given how amazing the passages actually involving baseball are).
Beyond that, there’s nothing specifically that I didn’t like. The main problem with the book was ever so slightly off. The characters didn’t quite connect; the plot was slightly overwrought, the main theme (Steve Blass disease applied to relationships) was a bit too forced (which actually could be a meta-theme in a way).
The Art of Fielding was a worthwhile book. It wasn’t amazing and life-changing, but it wasn’t mediocre either. If you are looking for a long summer read or a long interesting American novel, then The Art of Fielding is a great choice. Otherwise, I’d recommend choosing something else.