P&P Reading Club: Megan Wells on The Art of Fielding Chapters 1 -17

he art of fielding by chad harbachFind more of Megan Wells at Around the Horn from Aerys Sports.

Despite finding the initial pacing a little strange, I’m enjoying The Art of Fielding. My biggest difficulty, though, has been finding a character to identify with. Schwartz, who strikes me as the most complex and engaging character, hovers around the periphery like a deus ex machina. Affenlight seems deliberately reserved; Pella has only just been introduced.

And then there’s Henry.

I went into the book wanting to identify with Henry and, if I’m honest, to live vicariously through him a bit. But so far, there’s no hook. On the field, he’s a wizard: inhumanly perfect, unrelatable (in spite of the oh-so-scrappy Eckstein parallels I couldn’t help drawing). Off the field, he’s as close to a blank slate as a human being can get. His strongest relationship is with Schwartz, but even then, the catcher serves–from Henry’s perspective, anyway–more as the human avatar of baseball’s influence on Henry’s life than as a foil to draw out his personality. In much the same way Aparicio Rodriguez does via his book, Schwartz tells Henry who Henry is.

I think the book knows this, though. At the very end of chapter 11, we get “Without Schwartz, come to think of it, there was hardly even any Henry Skrimshander.” My hope is that we’re being set up for Henry to find himself a little when baseball leaves him. Whether that will require the absence of Schwartz or a shift in Henry’s understanding of him will be interesting to see.

On an unrelated note, I wanted to give props to Pella’s feminist aside in chapter 14. “She hated the namelessness of women in stories, as if they lived and died so that men could have metaphysical insights.” It was a pleasant surprise in a novel that could have easily stayed in boys’-club territory, and I think it deserves pointing out.

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