Henry Skrimshander is an outstanding shortstop and it’s that which draws Mike Schwartz to recruit him to Westish College in Wisconsin. Within a very short space of time, Henry has revitalized the Westish team and brought them victories that had been vastly beyond their reach. But with one missed throw, Henry’s entire life is thrown off balance. Who is he, if he can’t always throw perfectly? And what is the team without him? Surrounding Henry are all of the dramas of closed-in literary college life; affairs with professors, mature students, deadly dull jobs, and even a bit of studying every now and again.
It’s taken me a while to review this book, which I’m not sure is entirely positive; I loved it and I felt like I had a lot to say about it once I’d finished, but I left it a long while to actually sit down and write. The Art of Fielding is a book that, without question, has received an enormous amount of hype. Even before Kathy brought it across an ocean for me, she told me that it was going to be one of the big releases of 2011, and I’ve watched it receive review after review. I managed to keep myself away from spoilers of all kinds and experience the book for myself, though, when I was ready for it.
I made the right decision, because I loved this book. I felt as though it tapped right down into a deep sense of American nostalgia, a story about being the best you can be and what happens when you’re not sure you can achieve that any longer. Where do we go once we’ve hit our peak? Not only does Henry experience this, but each of the other characters are faced with periods of monumental change and the fact that their lives simply can’t be the same again. It reminded me of my own leaving college; I loved my time there and even now when I look at the pictures I’m blasted with a ton of nostalgia. But I’ve moved on, and these characters have to move on, too, regardless of whether their stardom is behind them or right in front of them.
At times, I did feel the book was a little bit long; there was one particular spot in the latter middle where I felt the story was dragging. But for the most part, I got completely swept up into this world. I’m not a fan of baseball, although I certainly know my way around a field mostly because I grew up amongst Yankee fans and went to a public high school. That may have helped, but I think the book is deeper than that and touches something universal – it might apply to baseball, but it might equally apply to a writer who isn’t sure he or she can ever write a novel as good as their first, or a musician who fears becoming a one-hit wonder. If that should happen, when do we let go? Or do we carry on trying?
I know this review is not really a review – it’s very obscure, instead. But I think The Art of Fielding is a book that is well worth your time. It was a surprisingly fast read, for its size, and it swept me up in its simultaneously grandiose and personal story. I recommend it.
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