By Chet Yarbrough
Narrated by Holter Graham
In “The Art of Fielding”, Chad Harbach lures readers into the world of baseball as a metaphor of life.
To define “fielding a baseball”, for those who may not be fans, it is about handling a ball when it is thrown or hit toward you when playing a defensive position in a baseball game. In a world drawn small, “The Art of Fielding” is about playing baseball at a Midwestern American college but, in the wide world, it is about self-understanding, coping with relationships, and dealing with incidents in life.
Henry, the hero of the story, is a budding baseball shortstop that has the physical and mental tools to be the best shortstop since a fictional St. Louis Cardinal superstar named Aparicio Rodriquez. Henry’s fielding makes him an early St. Louis Cardinal’s prospect but, when he is pitched the possibility of going to the pros, he begins making fielding errors (throwing the baseball over his teammate’s heads rather than into their mitts). He second guesses every game-day move when catching or throwing a baseball. Henry loses confidence in himself. He becomes anxious and depressed. He turns away from baseball. He begins fielding life in the wide world, away from baseball; i.e. the transcendent theme of the book.
“The Art of Fielding” exasperates and enlightens. Harbach exasperates by being ridiculously politically correct by calling first year college students “fresh persons” rather than freshmen. Aside from this forgivable affectation, Harbach cleverly explores the dance of sex, angst, and human relationship with a deftly enlightened story of love.
“The Art of Fielding” explores a 60ish father’s way of dealing with a changed understanding of his sexuality. As a college President, he seduces a male student that is the same age as his daughter. It is a fielding error by a player that has lost his way in the game of life.
The college President’s daughter has some understanding of her father’s sexual pursuit of youth and its’ inevitable consequence. It was a mistake she made in her own life when she married a person older than herself. She assesses her failed marriage, her failed education, her failing personal relationships, and her anxiety about living a productive life in the shadow of an older mate. Putting aside the sexual difference of the two relationships, her father’s and her own, age difference in sexual partners has a fielding consequence; usually, an error.
Harbach switches back and forth between the game of baseball and the game of life. Like a baseball player fielding a baseball, all human beings pitch and catch with varying degrees of talent, hard work, success, and failure. Fielding life (catching and throwing life’s incidents) is a critical part of how humans advance and decline, live and die. Harbach creates circumstances that show how human desire can conflict with personal and societal values with consequences that lift, drop, change, maintain, and sometimes, destroy lives.
This is a story about fielding the good and bad incidents of life. This is not a story of doom and gloom; i.e. just as in life, some people fail and some succeed. “The Art of Fielding” is an insightful novel even if one is not a baseball fan.