Thursday, 1 December 2011

THE ART OF FIELDING by Chad Harbach


I finished THE MARRIAGE PLOT in the middle of Tsavo National Park, the biggest natural preserve in Kenya. I was staying at a beautiful lodge, the view of which was 360, as you see.

You will note a distinct absence of book stores in that photograph. I almost panicked. Some people would say: relax! Enjoy the view! Etc! These people have reserves of inner peace quite unknown to me. Thank god for the internet. I looked at the New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2011, and on seeing THE ART OF FIELDING described as Franzen-like, like a cat to catnip, downloaded that shit. The Kindle is, frankly, sweet.


Franzen-like is a bit strong, but THE ART OF FIELDING is certainly a big, contemporary American novel, and I enjoyed it. It tells the story of a young man called Henry who has an immense natural talent as a baseball player. He is given a scholarship to a university, Westish, and the novel follows the various characters he meets there: his gay roommate, his university's president, the university president's flaky daughter, etc etc. the stories are engaging and nicely observed.

Some of it I found very funny, possibly because it recreates an American college experience I remember vividly. Here is one Henry Schwartz on his back hair:
“I hearken back to a simpler time. A time when a hairy back meant something. . . . Warmth, survival. Evolutionary advantage. Back then, a man's wife and children could burrow into his back hair and wait out the winter. Nymphs would braid it and praise it in song. God's wrath waxed hot against the hairless tribes. Now all thats forgotten. But ill tell you one thing: when the next age comes, the Schwartzes will besitting pretty. Real pretty.
Occasionally, Westish is however like no college I've ever heard of. For example, everyone is totally not homophobic, and fine with the roomate who is an athlete being gay (?) and the chef of the college kitchen is really talented (?). Also, sadly, the novel did rather drown in baseball towards the end. Let me give you a taste of a typically incomprehensible paragraph:
Starblind walked, Sooty Kim bunted him to second, Henry roped a single past the pitcher's ear. Schwartz crushed a moon shot into left-centre field.
Excellent, excellent, good to know. I skipped the entire climactic National Championship chapter, as it was all in this mysterious vein. Also mysterious, to me at least, was the male bonding and male catharsis that went with all this sporting effort:
He dented the metal, bloodied his knuckles. ”Anyone who thinks otherwise, anyone who'd rather go paly for McKinnon . . .Can clear the hell out. I'm winning a regional title, and then I'm winning a national championship. And guess what? You motherfuckers are along for the ride!"
The above is all written, as far as I can tell, in total seriousness, and all the characters take it that way. People need to work on being less stupid.

Fear not, readers. I did not of course spend all my time reading at Tsavo. I drank lots of wine and looked a the view, and went on lots of drives. I saw a hyena out hunting baby impala, and, one night, a tiny baby scrub hare. Jambo, little man, jambo, said our sweet, very Christian guide, quietly. I really only read THE ART OF FIELDING in bed.

4 comments:

  1. Depending on the university and the crowd homophobia can be quite distant - perhaps he is writing too to show the possibilities. As for the book itself, I don't know if I could handle the baseball. Bleh. heh.

    Tsavo sounds fantastic (though yes, thank goodness for the Kindle and the ability to get books almost anywhere!). Hope you really enjoyed yourself.

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  2. Having a wonderful time out there. How do you find Franzen. Haven't read him yet. I have The Corrections though. But I thought folks regarded him as over-hyped. I ask in view of your response - in terms of acquiring it - when it was compared to Franzen.

    I guess those of us who knows next to nought about baseball could also skip those pages.

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  3. Perhaps you are right Amy. It was quite distant at my university, but then one does hear such bad reports of college sports?

    Nana, I do love Franzen. I think that FREEDOM is fabulous, but I do like THE CORRECTIONS too. You should give it a try . .

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  4. Nice review, Sarah! It looks like a campus-sport novel. The baseball passages look like Greek to me. Being from cricket country though, I feel that baseball is cricket's poor cousin :) The writing in cricket is also more poetic and one doesn't need to know the game to appreciate the prose.

    Glad to know that you are having a wonderful time in Tsavo National park. The picture you have posted looks beautiful. Hope you can post pictures of imphalas and hyenas and hares.

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