Book of the Week: The Art of Fielding

In grad school, I had a good friend (who is really, really technophobic, so I can’t link to his amazing work) who studied homosocial and homosexual relationships in literature about male athletes. If that doesn’t sound fascinating to you, just trust me– it was. About fifteen pages into Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding, I was drafting an email to my buddy to let him know I had found the book for him (he’d already read it, but the thought counts). Race, class, gender, sports, education, and university politics: it’s all here.

No amount of massaging or toggling with borders could make this pretty cover into a pretty picture, and for that, I'm deeply sorry.
No amount of massaging or toggling with borders could make this pretty cover into a pretty picture, and for that, I’m deeply sorry.

I don’t remember the last time I was this excited about a book. It’s been at least six or eight months, maybe longer. The Art of Fielding is about 500 pages, and I tore through it in less than a day, forsaking valuable sleep in favor of finding out what happens to the Henry Skrimshander and Mike Schwartz (the aforementioned homosocial relationship) and their myriad friends and lovers. When here-unnamed ills befell them at the midway point of the book, I took it as personally as finding out my best friend had been passed over for a promotion or that my sister got dumped by a loser.

One of the reviews I read described it as “old-fashioned“, meaning that it has good, slow plotting and careful character development, and while I don’t know that that’s necessarily a distinction to draw between contemporary literature and that of the past, dude is dead on about the deep and subtle nuances of movement and characterization contained within. The deeply satisfying ending certainly left me sated, but I kind of wonder what they gang is up to now. I don’t mean the big stuff (do they end up together? Does he go pro?), but the quotidian details (is Mike taking care of his knees? What kind of neat ramen flavors is Owen enjoying while on his fellowship in Japan?).

Something that this book does well is talk about technology and the way we interface with it in our daily lives. Most Serious Literature stays away from talking about cell phones and email, and at this point, any book that takes place in the current age seems ridiculous when it ignores those things. I’m not sure if that’s born of an anxiety about sounding dated quickly, or if it’s about trying to seem above the materialistic culture that can accompany our gadgetry, but either way, it’s something contemporary writers need to work on. Chad (and I feel I can call him that, being as we are both Cavaliers) incorporates iPhones and Blackberries and Netbooks seamlessly throughout, and uses these as subtle class indicators– because that is what they are. The scholarship kid has the free-with-plan phone, the rich girls with glossy hair and Ugg boots use Apple products, and everyone, regardless of their have/have not status, waits for and ignores text messages. This is a little thing, considering the way bigger and more general issues the book takes on, but it was thought-provoking to see our attendant nonsense contextualized.

Anyway, have you read The Art of Fielding? What did you think? What did you love? Hate? Feel completely indifferently about? Tell me! I want to talk about this stuff, y’all! I have this rusty comparative literature degree that I’m trying to fix up and take cruisin’.

Next week, I’m reading this. Want to follow along?

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