Monday, December 19, 2011

The Art of Fielding

Chad Harbach
The Art of Fielding

Little, Brown, 2011

A high school student from South Dakota Henry Skrimshander begins his studies at Westish College in Wisconsin, where he is invited to learn and play baseball by Mike Schwartz, a senior, the team captain and coach’s right hand. On one of the matches Henry impresses Mike, after which he tries to persuade not only Henry to study at Westish, but as well Henry’s father, who all his life wanted that his son instead of studies worked as a mechanic. Mike knocks out a grant for talented shortstop, and Henry settles in a dorm room with another student, Owen Dunne, who representes himself as a gay mulatto. Henry at once acquaintes with his teammates and the coach. Mike sees for Henry a great future, and therefore helps Henry later. Henry also engages in baseball Owen, who was always more on the literary side, but he manifests itself well on the field.

Another plotline of this book is connected with the college president Guert. He began an academic career as a Melville’s researcher, who once even went to Westish. Affenlight became famous in 1987 when he wrote the book «The Sperm-Squeezers», a study on homosexuality in the American literature of the XIX century. About the same time Affenlight’s daughter Pella was born, and three years after the girl's birth her mother dies in an accident. Now the 60-year-old, Affenlight is in love with one of the students, Owen. He occasionally attends games of the team to look from afar at Owen. When, during one of the game an incident happens (Henry gets the ball to Owen in the head), Owen with a strong tremor is taken to the hospital for a long time and is eliminated from the tournament. Affenlight shows an unprecedented concern for the student. He regularly visits Owen, checks that the student has been provided to all.

It’s a “baseball” novel in which - paradoxically - baseball is the least interesting thing. First of all, part of the book about baseball is hard to read. Other plotlines are far more interesting. The story about a teacher \ director of college and the student is already a cliche, but Harbach approaches gently gay love without melodrama, but with a keen attention to detail. The author is not overdoing, leaving outside of the book explicit scenes between the student and the director, and evokes sympathy for both characters. Given that this was not defilement, then affair between Owen and Affenlight is a reminder that pure love is still possible in this world (even if not between a man and a woman, but between a man and a man).

The relationship between Pella and Mike is a more complex. And if the old man's love to the young mulatto-gay causes tenderness, Pella’s love, corrupted and almost lost a girl, with Mike raises awareness. Attraction to older men, which she explains as a need for someone who'd replaced her father, is gradually passing away, and Pella is aware that her past life was full of mistakes, but now is the time to begin to correct them. Mike is the first step to improvement.

If the beginning of the book is slightly prolonged and tedious, the final otherwise, sharp and puts everything in place as the bat hit the ball. Fear of each of the characters to grow up, to look at oneself in a few years after graduation in Westish, passes. Whether the old man's death to blame, or the unexpected victory of the team in the league, but all the heroes suddenly realize that you can not always live in the same day, you need to make decisions, whatever they would be. And everyone at once throws depressive mood and start acting. The director chooses death for his own peace and the future of her daughter. Mike realizes that he is a good coach and why does not become a coach. Henry starts to play again for the team. Pella decides to dig the grave of his father and fulfill his last wish.

Miracles happen, and it seems that Westish is a place of miracles. College is like a magic academy that attracts everyone. Affenlight did not want to leave college. Pell left to study here. Mike began working here, and Henry does not want to play for the Cardinals, but wants to continue playing for the local team. Campus life is described quite realistically, and indeed all parts of the book, which describes not the baseball field, but the campus, are the very best here.

Not a bad novel, but to call this the book of the year? It would be exaggeration.

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