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The Art of Fielding by Chad Arbach

March 17, 2013

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harback looked like a book to avoid for many good reasons, the main ones being the unbelievable amount of money the author got from the publisher and the hype from the likes of the New York Times – no one can be so good to deserve all that money and praise, alas I love baseball so I couldn’t resist the lure of a book where my favorite game plays a huge role. In my opinion there is not much to appreciate in this debut novel, but let’s start with the poor editing – a long prologue to set the story, then a two years jump forward – makes me think of the kind of bad editing featured in so many bad films or the pilot-season relationship I have seen on so many bad TV shows: is coherence such a bad thing? Furthermore the writing and the character development here is way below par.

My main criticism regards the plot: Henry is a junior shortstop projected to be a first round pick, he is an amazing fielder and a terrific hitter (.455 plus tons of stolen bases) a player like that doesn’t lose his place on the team – nor his prospect status – after three bad games, it not happens in the real world and – when I think of it – not even in the world of good fiction, because it makes no sense. In the real world and in a good story Henry would know that he has one more year of college baseball to retrace his lost psychophysical equilibrium, but the plotting weakness affects the other stories in the book too: in the real world and in a good story a straight sexagenarian who found himself attracted by a young man would act with much less aplomb than Guert.

I realize The Art of Fielding – while rooted in reality – plays into fable territory and it’s curious enough to note that in the same year this book was published we have seen other examples of a liberal arts college becoming the playing field for this kind of fantasy (Liberal Arts by Josh Radnor and Damsels in Distress by Whit Stillman are the first examples coming to my mind) but at the end of the book there is not a turn of phrase that I remember, nor I character I found believable or memorable, this is a poor debut novel, this is a book not worth reading, if you want to read a book by a young author then try something by Karen Russell: that’s what I call great writing and a new voice.

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