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The Art of Fielding Hardcover – 5 Jan 2012
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Title: Art of Fielding <>Binding: Hardcover <>Author: Chad Harbah <>Publisher: Fourth Estate
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The novel centres on a small group of individuals: Henry Skrimshander the young teen with an exceptional talent when it comes to handling a baseball; Mike Schwartz the college baseball captain how discovers Henry and talks both Henry and the quite backwater Westish College into his enrollment; Owen the super cool, gay black who is Henry's college roommate; Guert Affenlight the college principal; and Pella his daughter. We do get to meet other member of the team who comprise a wide mix of natures but their role is relatively minor.
Henry and Mike soon become close friends, in fact Henry seems to have little else in his life besides baseball and Mike, so when things start to go wrong for Henry he is dependent on Mike, who is not always up to the task. His involvement with Henry is not helped when Pella appears on the scene and inevitably distracts Mike.
Keeping an eye on the proceedings is Guert Affenlight, but this dashing and handsome older man begins to take too close an interest in Owen, an interest far from discouraged by the beautiful, slender young man, but which can only lead to disaster.
The Art of Fielding is a well written and well constructed story, my appreciation of which was in no way hampered by my lack of interest or knowledge of the game of baseball. The characters are appealing and and clearly individual and one soon becomes concerned for each one of them; this is a touching and rewarding story of loyalties and friendship.
Reading this reminded me of John Irving, it has the same gentle style and pace of The world According to Garp or a Prayer for Owen Meany. Baseball forms the catalyst for the story but is actually more about the human condition than the game.
Henry is a young man who, because his talent is spotted by a college player, is offered a place at college based on his skill on the field. Everything runs perfectly until he hits a friend with a throw during a game and his confidence and talent disappear. He goes from future star to potential has been in a few seconds.
The book revolves around his relationship with Swartz, his mentor and friend, and Owen his friend and gay roommate. We see how his talent impacts on those other members of a team that is, historically, mediocre but through his efforts is transformed into a team of winners, who carry on even after his professional demise.
Yet we also have the interlinked relationships of the college President and his daughter; various sexual awakenings and love interests but also the fragility of the human mind.
It's hard to believe that this is a debut novel as itis so well written and we should have an author who will go on to write more and more. Yet we have to hope that his talent is not foreshortened by the success that this book has deservedly achieved.
Despite being long enough, even the main characters are one-sided, not developed enough and the story drags on in some parts.
The main two seems to be asexual and removed from the outside world until the dean's daughter is introduced in the story with no credible actions.
I struggled up to the end and after the grave digging final scene, more appropriate for a Mark Twain novel for teenagers I ended up asking myself - which is the audience this book was written for?
Not for me.
A great book which i have loved reading, and am sure will linger long in the memory
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