Customer Review

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What's going on here?, 20 Nov 2012
This review is from: The Art of Fielding (Paperback)
I didn't expect what I got here and I'm still not sure what it was.

First of all,there's the baseball.There were no concessions,understandably,to readers who don't know the sport and in the end,you don't have to know much to detect moments of success and failure as the book progresses.However,the initial plunge into the language of the game could quite easily put a hefty section of the readership off on both sides of the Atlantic. I took the view that I'd pick up what I needed to know as I went along,much as one does when reading Patrick O'Brian's sea tales.The obvious mythic significance of the players invites the reader to concentrate rightly on them rather than the intricacies of the sport.

And myth of the American kind seems to be what we're dealing with here with the emergence from nowhere of the rookie "natural" in the middle of the continent at a college touched,however fleetingly by one of the the greatest American myth makers of them all,Melville.The baseball team,steered by its very own Ahab pursues its course through the choppy waters of inter college competition,depression,injury,sexual jealousy and drug abuse.Various love stories run their course at the same time like porpoises alongside the Pequod and the conclusion arrives garnished with touches of Poe,Whitman and the great Herman himself. Coen Brothers fans may even find a touch of The Big Lebowski in there as well.

Along the way,Harbach shows himself to be an adept creator of literate and inventive prose. There's wit,precision and poetry on most pages,not least when making baseball come alive through a screen of jargon.What he doesn't do for me is produce truly convincing characters,which may well be something that he doesn't set out to do given the mythic underpinning of the piece.There's something stereotypical in the participants that makes them difficult to care for:they play out their part in the epic but,for me,lack the subtlety of fully rounded people.Schwartz,the player coach and driven captain of the team,for instance, is a massive presence within the novel but in the way that a face on Mount Rushmore is massive.He has his troubles and weaknesses but they amount to little more than bird droppings on his stony mien.He suffers like Ahab,not like Holden Caulfield.

There's a lot going on here,some of it predictable and sentimental but it is a very well written book with probably more going on underneath than I have detected.I look forward to the next from Mr Harbach.
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