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The Art of Fielding: A Novel
by Chad Harbach
Paperback : 544 pages
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At Westish College, baseball star Henry Skrimshander seems destined for big league until a routine throw goes disastrously off course. In the aftermath of his error, the fates of five people are upended. Henry's fight against self-doubt threatens to ruin his future. College president Guert Affenlight has fallen unexpectedly and helplessly in love. Owen Dunne becomes caught up in a dangerous affair. Mike Schwartz realizes he has guided Henry's career at the expense of his own. And Pella Affenlight returns to Westish after escaping an ill-fated marriage, determined to start a new life.
As the season counts down to its climactic final game, these five are forced to confront their deepest hopes, anxieties, and secrets. Written with boundless intelligence and filled with the tenderness of youth, "The Art of Fielding is mere baseball fiction the way Moby Dick is just a fish story" (Nicholas Dawidoff). It is an expansive, warmhearted novel about ambition and its limits, about family and friendship and love, and about commitment--to oneself and to others.
Amazon Best Books of the Month, September 2011: Though The Art of Fielding is his fiction debut, Chad Harbach writes with the self-assurance of a seasoned novelist. He exercises a masterful precision over the language and pacing of his narrative, and in some 500 pages, there's rarely a word that feels out of place. The title is a reference to baseball, but Harbach's concern with sports is more than just a cheap metaphor. The Art of Fielding explores relationships--between friends, family, and lovers--and the unpredictable forces that complicate them. There's an unintended affair, a post-graduate plan derailed by rejection letters, a marriage dissolved by honesty, and at the center of the book, the single baseball error that sets all of these events into motion. The Art of Fielding is somehow both confident and intimate, simple yet deeply moving. Harbach has penned one of the year's finest works of fiction.--Kevin Nguyen
ExcerptNo Excerpt Currently Available
Discussion Questions1. Does male friendship always involve competition? In what ways? Can men ever be just friends? Are their relationships more competitive than those between women?
2. After a long streak of errorless games, why does Henry lose his once-effortless throw? What has changed in Henry? Do you think this sort of crisis is unique to athletics? Could, say, a painter go through a similar crisis?
3. Harbach never writes from Owen’s point of view. In what ways did this affect your understanding of Owen’s character? Of his feelings toward Guert? Is their relationship one-sided, or perfectly reciprocal?
4. Mike devotes much of his time and energy to mentoring and helping Henry. Does he give Henry too much of his time and energy? Can someone give too much?
5. After hitting Owen and losing his accuracy, Henry immerses himself in grueling physical activity: running the stadium steps, racing Starblind, doing endless chin-ups, swimming in the lake. Why does he do this? Is his body to blame for his throwing problems? Discuss the relationship between the body and the mind in The Art of Fielding.
6. Are Pella and Henry in love? What brings them together? Why do they stay together?
7. Guert is decades older than Mike, Henry, Owen, and Pella, but in what ways is he similar to the students, despite his age?
8. “Monomania”—the obsessive pursuit of a single thing—is one of the major themes of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. Is it also a major theme of The Art of Fielding? If so, for which characters, and in what ways?
9. The athletes talk about sacrificing their bodies to get better, and the “sacrifice bunt” is a baseball term that comes up frequently. Is Henry sacrificing himself when he stops eating? Why? Is his last at bat a sacrifice?
10. Are Mike, Henry, and Pella all striving for perfection? Is perfection possible? Is it worth striving for, even if it’s impossible? Why or why not? Do their desires evolve over the course of the novel? In what ways?
11. When Affenlight is confronted about his relationship with Owen, he thinks: “What kind of conversation would they be having if Owen were a girl? Bruce would be using the same legalese, the expression on his face would still be stern, but he’d be pouring himself a scotch. The gleam in his eye would say, Good for you, Guert. Still got it, eh?” Do you think this is true? Would you have seen Guert differently?
12. Why does Pella exhume her father’s body and bury it in the lake?
13. In Aparicio Rodriguez’s The Art of Fielding, he writes: “There are three stages: Thoughtless being. Thought. Return to thoughtless being.” He adds: “Thoughtless being is attained by everyone, the return to thoughtless being by a very few.” What do you think this means? How does it relate to Chad Harbach’s book?
14. It has been said that baseball is a metaphor for life. Do you agree? Why or why not?
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