P&P Reading Club: Pete Beatty on The Art of Fielding Chapters 53-72

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

“Comedy aims at representing men as worse, Tragedy as better than in actual life.”–Poetics

“Is Ahab, Ahab?”–Moby-Dick, Ch 132

As Henry and Schwartz and the fifth business folks eddy toward Act V, things have taken a not-unwelcome turn toward the predictable. The story hangs on the national championship, even if the Skrimmer’s defective wing and Americanitis aren’t responding to treatment, not even the alienated love of the strangely static Pella. Guert’s desperate, curious love for Owen has brough his  administration down, but home ownership and anchor pets may bring a happy tomorrow. The lines of the plot are largely drawn, but what we’re left with is little more than a skeletal sketch, flawlessly styled but a bit transparent.

The burden of making this book flesh has fallen on character, as a stock-in-trade, in the form of Henry and Mike. Both boys/men are increasingly damaged; Schwartz especially:

All he could have today was … the knowledge that there’d be at least two more games–because nationals were double-elimination–before he had to face his fucked up life … He’d never found anything inside himself that was really good and pure, that wasn’t double edged, that couldn’t just as easily become its opposite.

Henry, chapters earlier, expresses the same essential frailty in a goofier way:

Sometime in elementary school his class had read Anne Frank’s diary, and Henry, terribly alarmed, asked why Anne hadn’t simply pretended not to be Jewish. The way Peter escaped from the Romans by pretending not to be a Christian. Peter got in trouble for that in the Biblbe, but if you put it in the context of poor Anne, who was not only real but a kid, didn’t it make sense? What difference did it make what religion you were, if you were dead?

The Art of Fielding is largely powered by character. Our rooting interests in Henry and Schwartz and Pella, and even lesser lights like Starblind and Chef Spirodocus and Contango the dog, are what bind us to the work. The universe of Westish, much like the Seven Kingdoms of George R.R. Martin (and notably unlike the deck of the Pequod) is only engaging insofar as we thrill to the doings of our heroes. While Henry and Schwartz are brilliantly realized and complex, they’re not given much in the way of a plot to interact with. Aristote might disagree with this sentiment, but I don’t particularly mind. I can see where this novel is headed, and in fact I might have guessed it–but knowing a game is scheduled for nine innings doesn’t detract from the tragicomedy. Or is this comedy? Or dramedy?

My last question before the final installment: Henry’s paralysis versus Schwartz’s self-hatred: I think I’m with Henry. Which is weird, because I am totally a Schwartzian to this point. Anybody else feeling their sympathies drift Skrimward?

1 Responses to “P&P Reading Club: Pete Beatty on The Art of Fielding Chapters 53-72”

  • One of the subtle things I enjoyed about the book was how the characters themselves respond to alleged defects in plot, such as when Owen complained about the gay porn Ground Hogs day aspects of his relationship.

    I respect Harbach for sticking to a linear plot with a twist – the team succeeds to unprecedented heights despite their best player disappearing. In reality, at least in soccer, this often happens – a star is sold for a profit, but the younger players assume responsibility and the “unpredictable” newness compensates for any drop in talent.

    I feel empathy for the Skrimdawg in that at first he wanted to play the game to play the game, but then the doping, athletic requirements, and money soil his childhood love. He didn’t tie the noose of expectation around his own neck – he just waned to catch balls and toss them at broom handles with a friend.

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