Navin Vaswani is a writer extroardinaire at NotGraphs and the lone Canadian participating in Reading Club.
I’ve got a couple of confessions: One: I don’t recall having read any baseball fiction; if I have, I don’t remember the book(s). And, two: I like most everything that I read. What can I say, I’d never make it as a critic. I’ve found the first 135 pages of The Art of Fielding to be enjoyable, to be readable, even though I find much of the book not believable. No matter how hard I try, I can’t imagine Owen Dunne a member of the Westish Harpooners, the “Buddha” the absolute furthest from a baseball player. I also wasn’t expecting Westish President Guert Affenlight to be gay, and to be falling in love with Owen, the improbable baseball player and easily the book’s most eccentric character so far. Again, just not very believable. But that’s why it’s fiction, I suppose.
I am pleased with the array of characters we’ve so far been introduced to. At first, through the book’s initial chapters, I couldn’t help but think of John McDonald when reading about Henry Skrimshander. A wizard, a savant, in the field, and nothing more. Until he was taken under his wing by Mike Schwartz, the thinking man’s baseball player. By now, we know where we stand with each of our protagonists: Will Henry’s errant throw be the first of many? It has to be. What will become of Schwartz? It is Henry’s turn to return the favour, and take care of him? Will Guert Affenlight pursue a relationship with Owen, a student at the college he presides over? I can’t see it happening, which means it probably will. I don’t really know what to make of Pella, who might be the one to save Schwartz, instead of Henry.
I’m not sure how much of the book I was expecting to be about baseball, but think Harbach has a struck a decent balance, so far. He’s a strong writer, as the depth of the characters proves. My question, what I’m interested to find out as we read further, is: How much of an impact will the happenings on the diamond, on the field, have on the lives of The Art of Fielding’s main characters? It seems as though baseball, the game, is secondary. Both to the plot, and to the characters. Life happens, and baseball is the escape. While I’m finding certain parts of the book a bit of a stretch, that’s one that certainly rings true.