Saturday, November 19, 2011

Debut Hits It Out Of The Park

There's been a lot of talk about Chad Harbach's debut novel, The Art of Fielding.  After reading it, I understand why.  It's a wonderful story with characters you can embrace and care about.  The writing draws you into their world and makes you feel a part of it.

Henry Skrimshander is a short-stop with big-league potential.  Mike Schwartz discovers Henry at an away game and is mesmerized by his ability.  He recruits Henry to his school, Westish College, on the shores of Lake Michigan.  There he works with him over the next few years to make him into an all-round athlete.

At the school, Henry rooms with Owen Dunne, another player on the team. Owen is brilliant, witty and gay.  Henry envies his confidence as he moves in the world.

The school's president is Guert Affenlight, who's claim to fame is a book he wrote on Herman Melville and Moby Dick after discovering that Melville had given a lecture at the school.  Westish embraced all things Melville, even naming the baseball team the Harpooners.

Guert's daughter, Pella, arrives at the school to stay with her father after fleeing a bad marriage.  She hopes to make a fresh start and get back to her studies.

As the lives of these five intertwine and relationships develop the complexity of the characters is revealed.  Their failures and insecurities make them real.  When Henry makes an errant throw it shakes more then Henry's confidence.  It shakes the very foundation of all their lives.

Harbach spins an enthralling tale that will hold you spellbound to the very end.

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