P&P Reading Club: Adam Webb on P&P Reading Club: Adam Webb on The Art of Fielding: The Final Chapters

he art of fielding by chad harbachFind more of Adam at Everyday Footnotes.

There are many criteria we can use to judge a novel: our emotional investment in the characters, the ferocity of the drama, our remembrances of the book weeks, months, years later. Somehow each novel determines its own criteria. The two criteria that TAF will be judged by are its efficacy in making the reader want to learn what happens next (aka page-turnability, aka unputdownableness) and its total avoidance of literal exhumations.

You win some, you lose some.

It’s interesting (perhaps), there’s actually a literary term for a scenario in which, say, the protagonists of a novel exhume a body and the act is treated as smelly and frustrating but not especially more upsetting than a standard (first time around) funeral. That term, of course: batshit crazy.

Do we have to accept this batshit crazy ending literally? I argue the following is at least as reasonable: Henry never leaves the psych ward (ever), he never gets drafted by the Cardinals (even in his delusions Starblind bests him), he never fixes things with Schwartz (it would take a seriously damaged mind to imagine that this group would repair their friendship with an act of body snatching and reburial at sea on the last day that they are all on campus together). In short, chapters 77 and 79-82 take place entirely in Henry’s mind.

Is what I’m suggesting any more unrealistic than the idea that Owen (of all the characters!) would enlist a friend who recently finished a stint under psychiatric care to help exhume the body of his months-dead lover?

(If there’s some way to include the entire final game — and Henry’s inexplicable decision not to coach first base in the final inning, seemingly quitting on the team once again — into my psychosis theory, I’m all for it. I couldn’t get that to work.)

Good book, bonkers ending.

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