P&P Reading Club: Ted Walker on The Art of Fielding Chapters 53-72

the art of fielding by chad harbach

For most of this book, Henry Skrimshander was the quiet fulcrum around which a group of vibrant characters wheeled, projecting onto his country frame their anxieties and insecurities. Henry, for his part, played the wall. Speaking little, affecting nothing, his presence was like a wall painted white: only with a blemish, a fierce and irrational smear, did it appear at all. Henry, as he walked off of the field when his throwing arm rebelled entirely, only finally realized this limited value to those around him. Unable to express his needs, especially to the friend he needed most, Henry pursued a philosophy of negation. If his value was as a blank wall, he would very literally erase himself from being. No food, no coffee, no Henry. How he managed not to allow himself to sink to the bottom of the lake in a 30-pound vest is beyond me.

Henry’s depressed turn caught me off guard, I will admit. He seemed incapable of anything but recovery, or at least some kind of good cheer. Even as he handed the ball off to the pitcher, I didn’t sense sadness from him, but acceptance. He could have recommitted himself to the studies that seemed less than irrelevant to him, or he could have pursued a decent romantic relationship. When a path becomes blocked, depression isn’t the only alternative route.

In Pella, Henry found a fascinating bed fellow. Perhaps his acute sorrow appealed to her. She plays the mother and the lover in a gracefully uncomplicated triangle. The men in her life all reflect a certain model of stability, whether as the confident jock, the confident scholar-president, the pompous West Coaster, or the solidly blank white wall.

I little expected to care about the result of an actual baseball game as this little universe hurtles into its own future. But here we are and I can’t wait to see where Henry falls in relation to the fate of his team, the understated but brilliant Harpooners, who will play on live national TV in this brilliant alternate reality in which Division III baseball games play, even if it is on cable.

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