P&P Reading Club: Pete Beatty on The Art of Fielding Chapters 1 -17

he art of fielding by chad harbach Pete Beatty is a future boss at The Classical and P&P’s resident Jim Thome scholar.

Some people will demur but “Guert Affenlight” is a truly excellent ridiculous name for a fictional character. “Guert Affenlight” is exactly the kind of name that college presidents/the over-accomplished sometimes are burdened with. I actually have a theory that the book publishing world (where I work), being a demimonde with a lot of unreconstructed WASPs and other old-line elites, has a disproportionate share of ridiculous names. I actually keep an Evernote file of “NARP” (Not A Real Person) names, which Guert Affenlight would be right at home in.

But beyond his pitch-perfect fake name, I’m not sure what to make of President Affenlight, who just strolled in and gayed (I mean that in a judgment-free way) everything up (and anyway, this novel is homoerotic from the copyright page onward– Mike Schwartz angrily whispers the word “pussy” at Henry, who ignores it! Symbolism! I solved literature!). I was just getting comfortable with this novel turning into a male gay-supremacist version of I Am Charlotte Simmons (fuck you guys for making fun of me, I liked that book) about the lower-middle-class souls-in-crisis of Schwartz and Skrimshander, and now I have to deal with Guert, who is a real adult with problems more complex than a rare throwing error or law school admissions. I’m rambling, but so far so good, right? I blazed through pages 1 through 117 in what felt like an hour. Good job everyone, especially the author.

7 Responses to “P&P Reading Club: Pete Beatty on The Art of Fielding Chapters 1 -17”

  • I’ve been little exposed to WASPs of the Affenlight mode. Probably the whole being Jewish and living on the West Coast my whole life thing. When I think of rich white people who are stuffy I think of Pasadena, not Wisconsin. But then I find Guert very endearing, not least because his gayness is so very quaint.

  • Didn’t Owen gay things up first?

    Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

  • it’s an intractable philosophical dilemma: who gayed first? but no, i guess Owen was technically hitting on Guert, so he was seduced into it. he to be drifting back to his first college self, the deluded hippie intellectual.

    anyone else not sold on Pella yet?

  • minus the cell phone references and the occasional scene where a coed plays with an iphone while she waits behind henry, these characters don’t seem to live in 2011. there are bits of the schwartz/skrim friendship that could have come from A Separate Peace.

    pella almost seems to represent Modern Life with the pills, poor life choices, tapping the Bank of Mom & Dad, etc. maybe that’s what makes her seem plausible to me–she’s the character i expected to see in a novel set on a college campus in 2011. it’s everyone else who seems to live on a different and (to my realism-demanding brain) less plausible planet.

  • Chris: Coming from South Dakota might explain why Henry feels like he’s from another time period. His hometown’s movie theatre probably just played Top Gun for the first time ever. It’s also a great way to paint him as a hyper-focused baseball outsider–something to be corrupted, tainted, or simply complicated.

  • Bryan: Yeah, Skrim makes the most sense of the bunch. Maybe it’s just because I just finished wading through Neal Stephenson’s latest, which is so deeply laden with cutting-edge interwebs usage that a novel that elides all of that stuff to focus on “plot” and “character development” feels anachronistic. I needed to reset my expectations.

  • I also think that in a way committing yourself to athletics so fully forces you to eschew elements of modern technology. Instead of eating at gastro pubs, you wolf down protein shakes. Instead of web surfing and whatnot, you lift weights and perform other feats of strength. I agree with you, Chris, that it doesn’t feel rooted in this exact moment in time, and the reference to the girl on the iPhone felt almost anachronistic. But I do think there’s an element of deep commitment to academics and athletics–especially on a small liberal arts campus that is always look backwards into history–that can skew a sense of time and place.

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