Find more of Adam at Everyday Footnotes.
Mea culpa guys! I mistakenly purchased The Art of Fiedler, an 81-chapter critical biography of the famed Boston Pops conductor Arthur Fiedler, so if I lapse into commentary about his early training at the Hochschule für Musik Berlin or the tutelage of Karl Muck instead of Westish Colllege and Mike Schwartz, please forgive me.
Since I began reading the correct TAF, I have recommended it to many people. The book is exceeding my high hopes, and the fielding-as-metaphor hasn’t shown up yet. (Have I missed it?) I think it’s natural in assessing the book in chunks of ~100 pages, that I might nitpick (when something is going so well, the slight missteps are fascinating) so I want to be on the record: I am very excited to start chapter 18 as soon as I finish writing this.
The introduction of a few of the characters reminded me of the fabular qualities of some Fitzgerald (especially when he writes about the Midwest). Schwartz seems like an exaggeration of a real person but maybe that means he will stick in my mind forever like what’s-her-name in “A Diamond as Big as the Ritz.” Along the same lines, Owen Dunne is somehow unrealistically real, more real than any person I have met. Pella Affenflight might fall too easily into that grand cliche of the promiscuous private school girl — but her whale tattoo cancels out my doubts about her character and the possible overkill of the Melville references.
The book was getting started well, thoroughly enjoyable, when my expectations were upended. At the end of the fifth chapter, Harbach moves us forward two years in the space of three pages and he does this in the least writerly way possible. A few chapters later, he pays off the heavy, obvious foreshadowing on page nine (“He caught the ball cleanly, always, and made, always, a perfect throw.”) by killing Owen. Except, as we learn two pages later, Owen is not dead. This sequence blew me away: I was shocked but felt the death had been earned, then I felt manipulated, then I was thrilled to have been manipulated so well and excited to learn what’s in store for Owen that required Harbach to hold onto him.
Last week I made two passing references to Michael Chabon. When I found Sal Phlox on the team in TAF, I figured Harbach was paying homage (a woman named Phlox is part of the love triangle in Chabon’s Mysteries of Pittsburgh). Because I haven’t found a Chabon link to Aparicio Rodriguez, I have to ask, is there any way an author puts an A. Rod. in a baseball novel if he doesn’t want the readers to think — even if only for irony’s sake — of A-Rod?