The cover drew me in: this book looks like it should be a delicate coming-of-age tale about a boy growing into a man, using baseball as an allegory for the wins and swings-and-misses of life. Given the cover model’s relaxed repose (and likely heavily influenced by the amount of fanfic I read, which, as John Cho says “gets gay fast”), I also assumed it would be a tale of a young man discovering his homosexuality. Baseball, young men exploring their sexuality: tick, right up my alley.
Instead, The Art of Fielding is about ambition. The main characters are a hard-working shortstop with a beautiful throw; a middling-talent catcher with a good eye for what his team needs; a middle-aged professor who wrote a great book of a youth (about Moby Dick, because of course); the professor’s daughter, looking to start a new life after an ill-advised and unhappy marriage; and the shortstop’s exceedingly clever roommate.
Each character has a particular talent, which they could leverage for their benefit, which could take them to the highest reaches of their profession, but Harbach examines these characters from all angles, I believe asking two questions:
- Is hard work and talent enough?
- What if you don’t follow your talent?
This is not really a book about baseball. Baseball is passion and patience and explosive action. The Art of Fielding is a well-written, beautifully tempered piece of award bait. Read it on a long summer’s afternoon, with a glass of good wine and memories of summer childhoods and dreams in your mind.