The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

“You loved it, because you considered it an art: an apparently pointless affair, undertaken by people with a special aptitude, which sidestepped attempts to paraphrase its value yet somehow seemed to communicate something true or even crucial about the Human Condition. The Human Condition being, basically, that we’re alive and have access to beauty, can even erratically create it, but will someday be dead and will not.”  The game in question is baseball, and I daresay the title of this story now makes immediate sense if you were ever wondering about it. 

This is a story that opens and closes with a baseball game, but it is not so much about the intricacies of a game which happens to be America’s national pastime as much as it is a universal story about the “human condition.”  As to how that condition is to be defined, it is in the most simplest as well as the most grandiose of ways, encompassing everything that makes us who we are and how we tick.  And that means every human emotion from the most mundane to the most sublime, including the most irrational and illogical as well.

Oh, and the frame of reference and anchor to this great examination is not just the game of baseball; it is all the imagery and characters from one of the greatest novels ever written, Moby Dick.  With grand Melvillean themes and references sprinkled liberally throughout, this is a fine example of the marriage of the old and the new in the genre of the novel that seems to transcend time and space, with such superb fluidity is the construct and narrative delivered.

In this new millennium, the novel is certainly very much alive and well thanks to writers such as Chad Harbach, who has already established himself as a writer to be reckoned with, especially when you consider this to be his debut offering.  Jonathan Franzen, another novelist whose style Mr. Harbach very much adopts, gives his own personal kudos by way of brief remarks on the dust jacket.  Even otherwise, it would be difficult to dispute the talent and good form of this story and its author, and one can only hope that the there will be more where that came from.

Incidentally, I had the pleasure of reading the unabridged version of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick last year, and had offered up a brief review of it at the time which might be found here.


Leave a Reply