Chad Harbach received a $650,000 advance for The Art of Fielding. An almost unheard of amount of money for a debut novel, which also meant it received a flurry of free publicity in literary circles before it came out. These high expectations perhaps would make it easy to dismiss the book as overrated trash but it’s actually very good. It’s a compelling story with richly drawn characters that are all muddling through their believably messed up lives.
The story focuses on the life of a baseball playing college student who is on the cusp of greatness but is risking throwing everything away just as he’s about to get everything he ever wanted.
The story revolves around a college student called Henry who’s got the potential to be the greatest shortstop in baseball history. I’ve no interest in baseball, the tactics or the skills that the players have to learn to become great but somehow this book made me care.
Not in a way that means I’m going to go sing up to my nearest baseball team (living in England I’m guessing that it would involve a reasonably long journey). But the long descriptions of baseball games are excellently written and add an element of action to a book that might otherwise have involved a bit too much navel gazing.
There are four main characters in the book, Henry the up and coming baseball star, Mike the inspirational leader of the baseball team, Affenlight the President of the university and Pella the daughter of the president. All four experience their own kind of crisis throughout the book.
The circumstances of these crises, though linked, are all different. The do however share a common theme of doubt. Doubt in what the future holds, doubt in their own ability, doubt in the choices they’ve made or are about to make. It’s all very uncertain. Each character is given chance to fully explore their moments of doubt and you are offered an insight into their internal world as they wrestle their demons.
One of the strengths of the book is that you never really know how things will play out. With Hollywood films training us to expect a happy ever after at the end of every story, it’s a relief to read something where you genuinely don’t know how things will work out and characters are capable of behaving surprisingly without seeming unrealistic.
The Art of Fielding – HBO TV series
One thing I’ve spotted online is that HBO have bought the rights and plan to turn the book into a TV series. It’s reasonable to worry whenever a great book is going to be turned into a TV programme or a film but if any production company would be able to this story justice it would be HBO.
A film might have been possible but it would have involved cutting vast amounts of storyline to trim it down. A full length TV series should give the story more time to breathe and I’m hopeful that in the right hands the story could be given a wider audience, it certainly deserves it.
Rating – four stars
I’m going to give the book four out of five. It’s a compelling read and it had it felt like it had a real substance to it. There were a few passages were it perhaps meandered a little bit and the main character Henry had a distance that made it hard to connect. This was compensated by the rich quality of the writing and the supporting characters had plenty about them to keep the reader interested.
At 500+ pages it is possibly a bit on the long side for the story it was telling but I found that I still got through it pretty quickly and was disappointed when I finished.
Get The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach at Amazon.co.uk
or if you’re in America you can get it from:amazon.com