P&P Reading Club: Megan Wells on The Art of Fielding Chapters 53-72

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

Everything seems finally to be coming to a head in the novel. Relationships are breaking down and forcing the characters to figure out their own lives, instead of using each other to fill the gaps. Probably the most striking loss, to me, was Henry’s loss of baseball. Every other character has something else to chase, for good or ill, but most importantly, for themselves: Schwartz wants the championship. Pella wants a normal, adult life. Affenlight wants a normal, adult life (an unexpected parallel between father and daughter that, to be honest, I only just caught on to as I was writing this).

But Henry has nothing else to want, and frankly, I’m not even sure he’s capable of wanting anything else. Even his relationship – insofar as you can call that weird one-sided dependency a relationship – with Pella is a sort of an aimless, reflexive action. And here’s where things got difficult for me.

Harbach has illustrated depression extremely convincingly in these pages. As someone who has been where Henry is, it was an exceedingly uncomfortable read for me. And it makes me wonder whether the loss of baseball is really what’s tormenting Henry, or whether there’s been something pathological about him all along. I object to the tendency society as a whole seems to have for diagnosing from a distance and with limited information. But Henry is fictional, so with that caveat in place, I’ll say that his reaction to walking away from baseball throws the observations I’ve made so far – about the essential emptiness of his character – into a wholly different light. What do you think: is Henry grieving normally? Or was he, by pursuing baseball so single-mindedly, staving off this feeling all along?

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