Wednesday, February 1, 2012
The Art of Fielding
Little, Brown, 2011
When Henry Skrimshander is recruited by Mike Schwartz to play baseball at Westish College, no one, least of all Mike, would fully appreciate or understand how much one person could change the lives of five other people, including Mike himself. Henry is a shortstop of phenomenal ability, but he is a social misfit who understands his own failings and is refreshingly modest about his talent. Mike is his mentor and his coach, but Henry’s bible for all things in baseball as well as life is a book called The Art of Fielding. The Art of Fielding is more than a book about baseball; Henry finds that its wise philosophy addresses most problems off the field as well as on it.
Unfortunately, Henry’s book has little to offer him when a routine throw goes off course and wounds Henry’s roommate, causing Henry to have a confidence crisis of epic proportions. The college team is in the middle of a championship season, and major team scouts have been nosing around at the games. Rumor has it that they are interested in Henry, but his bad throw has him spooked and his performance is not good. Meanwhile, Henry’s roommate’s injury has been the catalyst that allows the college president to finally act on his infatuation that he has been indulging himself with for the past several months. The president’s estranged daughter, Pella, shows up unexpectedly during these events with the news that she is divorcing her husband; then she and Mike find themselves in a complicated on again-off again relationship that confuses them both.
If this sounds complicated, it is, but in a thoroughly delightful way. You know a book is totally captivating when you think about it constantly; you pine for it when you aren’t reading it; and you totally wish you could just climb into the world the author has created and actually live the story along with the characters. I wanted to put my arm around Henry and be there for him as he suffered through his estrangement from Mike and his team; I wanted to tell President Affenlight that he was behaving in a self-destructive manner that would only hurt those he loved; I wanted Mike and Pella to be open and honest with each other and fall in love. I wanted the Westish College world to be my world – but I had to be happy with my all too brief time as an observer of these fragile, brave and loveable people.
This is the author’s first novel.
Other titles you may enjoy:
The Chosen by Chaim Potok (1967)
A baseball game between Jewish schools is the catalyst that starts a bitter rivalry between two boys and their fathers.
Battle Creek by Scott Lasser (1999)
A man who has spent his adult life juggling the roles of coach to an amateur baseball team, father to his estranged son, and caretaker to his own disapproving father, finds his life coming apart at the seams when, during one single season, his pitcher loses his arm, his son drifts further away, and he learns his father is dying of cancer.
A Prayer for Owen Meany (1989)
Owen Meany hits a foul ball while playing baseball in the summer of 1953 that kills his best friend's mother, an accident that Owen is sure is the result of divine intervention.