P&P Reading Club: Patrick Dubuque on The Art of Fielding Chapters 1 -17

he art of fielding by chad harbachFind Patrick right here, and at Notgraphs.

In my opinion, one of the most interesting aspects of the novel thus far is the excerpt from The Art of Fielding within the actual novel. The rules read as though they pertain to a certain one-legged batting stance, rather than the mechanics of playing shortstop. Meanwhile, the book pulls its own literary weight, serving as the connection, always necessary, between the game and life. Every baseball novel must, in some way, defend the game of baseball, just as every novelist must attach his or her characters to the human condition in order to make them matter. The book within a book is an interesting way of making that promise.

I particularly love how Harbach is able to use this passage to toy with the reader through the means of irony. Rule 3 (There are three stages: Thoughtless being. Thought. Return to thoughtless being) is one of the most blatant, all-encompassing uses of foreshadowing I can recall, a dead giveaway of the book’s entire theme. Having done this, Harbach then tosses in a final rule, 213 (Death is the sanction of all that the athlete does) without explanation, almost mischievously.

My question posed to the readership: why (thus far) is Omar Vizquel the only ballplayer referred to by his real name in the novel? Harbach isn’t concerned with disguising identities, since Aparicio Rodriguez (a dual-shortstop name in itself) is such an obvious pseudonym for Ozzie Smith. I’m told by those in the know (Eric) that the namedropping is no coincidence, but Vizquel’s name may as well have been blinking on the page. That Harbach chose to do this on page 97, with no other explanation, is an interesting choice to me.

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