Chad Harbach’s debut novel shares its title with a guide to playing baseball, which includes meditative observations on the art of life itself.
It’s a book-within-a-book; it’s a theme-within-a-theme. For Chad Harbach’s novel is about baseball, but it’s about life, too.
So if you’ve already decided that this novel isn’t for you because you’re not into baseball, you might have to think again.
My experience of baseball is limited to watching my grandmother watch the games; this normally-well-behaved senior citizen would holler and root when a game was on, make raucous comments about the way her favourite players’ uniforms fit, and broadcast the gossip she had read about their personal lives.
See, even then, it wasn’t really much about the game. Not for me, anyway. But my grandmother’s hobby led to my watching a lot of televised games and baseball-themed films, without inspiring any love of the sport in me. And so I was prepared for — but not enthused about — this debut novel.
But there I was, reading this 700+ page novel in less than three days. So there you have it: The Art of Fielding is a novel about baseball. And it isn’t.
It’s a novel about quintessentially American things (campus life, bigger-and-better real estate, on-the-road games); and it has some surprising elements (not every student is an upper-class white boy, the most romantic relationship in the book is between two men, Melville actually seems cool).
“Schwartz knew that people loved to suffer, as long as the suffering made sense.”
So even if you’ve decided that reading a book about baseball would be all-about-suffering, you might just find that reading The Art of Fielding makes sense.
After all, I haven’t read Moby-Dick but, from what I’ve heard, it’s all about the whale, and not at all about the whale.
[There's a much more detailed response here, which also considers the surprisingly bookish parts of this story.]