Tuesday, June 19, 2012
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
Harbach had me laughing by page five and cheering for these folks by page ten. But he wrote a long book and unfortunately, the feeling didn’t last. The book has lots of words, lots of stories, lots of characters. Half would have been nicer, more discreet and literary, but instead we got a somewhat bloated narrative illustrating the maturing process that many humans experience. If I say it was a well-written bloating, would that matter?
For instance, Harbach captures completely the absurd descent into anger that occurs between two people in a relationship, desultorily exchanging half-serious barbs which gradually become pointed, then toxic, then positively vicious. Harbach’s writing is reminiscent of Jonathan Franzen in that he uses a huge scale but the people are still lifelike, if not completely believable. It’s just that Harbach appears to lose the point part-way through, which diminishes his accomplishment somewhat.
The chronology we recognize is as follows: First, we think we might be “special” at something, then we discover that the world is filled with “special” folks, and finally we realize what “special” means and wonder if we can handle success. It’s a familiar story and Harbach tackles it with great enthusiasm and even skill. But the story takes on a life of its own, and introduces relatives and friends and even neighbors and becomes unwieldy. Going against the grain of reviewers who thought this a masterpiece, I have to say that I think this book might have better served had it been half its length. Henry lost his mojo. We get it. Do we need to wallow in the aftermath quite so much? This reader felt abandoned. The author was off fighting wars on other shores while I stood bereft on this one.
Perhaps college-aged kids will find this book a revelation, but anyone older has little time for wallowing in failure. We’ve all experienced too much of it to have much time for a long wallow. For those who strive and take risks, failure is just the flip side of success. It’s part of the process. Both have their good points, both have their bad. If we don’t get over whatever we get dealt, we don’t move on. This is the art of fielding after all, isn’t it?
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