Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Done: The Art of Fielding" by Chad Harbach

Done: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, 2011, 9780316126694.

I got 270 pages into this and realized there had not yet been a murder, an armed robbery, or even a beating. In fact, not much of anything interesting happened. And there were still 142 pages to go.

Henry Skrimshander is from South Dakota and playing a final AAU baseball game in Illinois after his senior year at high school. His impressive skill as a short stop is noticed by a the opposing teams pitcher, Mike Schwartz. Mike recruits Henry to play for Westish College. Mike does more than recruit Henry. Mike will be a sophomore but his natural powers of persuasion and strong personality have already carved him a strong place at Westish. He talks Henry's parents into Westish, he talks Henry's dad through the financial aid process, he calls Henry's high school for transcripts, he talks Westish into what, in mid-freaking August, must have been the latest admission in college history.

Scrawny Henry is tutored for three years by Mike into 155 pounds of muscle and tenacity. Fleet of feet with a strong arm and a .408 batting average the team is finally a Div III contender after 100 years of mediocrity. Then things start to fall apart for everyone. For Henry. For Mike. For the college president, Guert. For Henry's roommate, Owen, who is secretly dating the much older Guert. For Guert's daughter, Pella who, is escaping depression and a controlling husband.

A throw to first by Henry went awry and smashed Owen's face. Henry loses all confidence and can only double and triple clutch his throws. Mike's knee pain has cultured a pill popping addiction. Pella starts dating Mike but sleeps with Henry. Guert is found by other college administrators to be shagging Owen and his career is threatened. So on. So forth.

But, not much actually happens. Harbach writes well. The characters are believable and full of detail and life. Westish College has it's own presence. A blurb by Jay McInerney says how Fielding "is an autonomous universe, much like we inhabit, although somehow more vivid." McInerney is correct but for fuck's sake give me something to read about.

1. Westish and the town of Westish sit on Lake Michigan. I looked at a map to figure if Harbach modeled Westish after a real town. The closest guess - based on geographical clues in the text - is Kewaunee. Next choices are Two Rivers or Manitowoc.
2. All of the main characters but one are students or college aged. They are not the usual booze busting students.
2.a. Mike has been on his own since orphaned at 15. Mike's law school admissions are rejected and he is stuck about what to do next.
2.b. Henry is solely focused on baseball and classwork. Henry only goes to bars by getting dragged there.
2.c. Pella is 23-years-old and fled her failed marriage with no money, clothes, or job history.


Unknown said...

I wanted very much to like this book, but I gave up on it.

Gerard Saylor said...

Harbach is from Kenosha, WI. I'm on the library association committee that selects book awards and had to finish it.

I, too, wanted to like the book but did not.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I also wanted to like this--so many people recommended it. But I just didn't get it. Especially after I realized I had skipped two CDs in the audio book.