In spite of the baseball, I enjoyed this book. How’s that for an endorsement?
To be honest, I found myself skimming the passages that dealt with actual gameplay to get back to the game of life being played between the characters in this story.
Oddly, although The Art of Fielding is set in the present day, it feels like a book outside of its own time. Perhaps that’s because its world is so insular: a second-rate college called Westish, somewhere in Wisconsin, sets the scene in which the lives of five characters interact. First there is Mike Schwartz, the consummate college athlete who lives for his teams, particularly the Harpooners, the school’s baseball team, to which he recruits Henry Skrimshander, who is something of a phenom in the position of shortstop. Henry’s roommate is Owen, a gay man who attracts the attention of the school president, Guert Affenlight. Rounding out the cast is Affenlight’s daughter, who arrives at the school after fleeing her impetuous marriage. These, then, are the lives that intersect in myriad ways, as they struggle to define themselves and sort out their priorities and future plans.
In the midst of this, their star is being scouted for the MLB draft, but under the intense scrutiny, can Henry handle the pressure? What becomes of all of the characters when they are being pulled apart by forces outside their carefully constructed world? This is not a book about baseball as much as it is about growing up, about chasing your dreams and about adapting to the world you must face outside yourself. Certainly, a healthy understanding and appreciation of the game probably helps in the appreciation of The Art of Fielding, but the story is about so much more than the game.
This is not a perfect book by any means. Situations occur that too conveniently set up others; they are the means to an end rather than an end in themselves. But these are engaging, sympathetic characters and the story leaves the reader feeling like the game was well-played.