The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach is a book within a book. Henry, a young shortstop has learned about baseball from reading The Art of Fielding and it is the only book he owns. He is a machine at short and when asked by his mom after each game, “How many errors did you make?” He slaps his mitt and shouts, “Zero” which also happens to be the name of his mitt. No one touches his mitt and no one brings it out to him if he is left on the bases. He is not good at the plate. He is discovered by a student at Westish College and gets a full ride. How all this comes about is curious. There is a The Natural feel about this story.
He doesn’t look like an athlete, let alone lime a baseball player, so when coaches put him in right or at second he just goes to short and waits to prove that is his position. After each game his coaches would hit balls to him and he was perfect, flawless, other worldly. He is mythical like Roy Hobbs.
This isn’t a book about baseball per se. It is about Henry; Owen, his gay college roommate and baseball teammate; Schwartz, his upper lass mentor; Affenlight, Westish’s president; and his daughter Pella. It is about scholarship. It is about sex as a comfort, mistake, and accident. It is about how we need to practice practice practice, so that the result seems seamless and natural. It is about those dark places in our lives we try to keep hidden and behind us. It is about fear, the fear of failure when so much is hoped and expected. It is about money.
On one occasion President Affenlight is walking through the halls of Phumber Hall, the freshperson dorm, as comes upon one of the ubiquitous dry erase boards that hang on the doors of each room. “On one, a stick figure man faced a stick figure woman. An arrow pointed to his shoulder–high tumescence –THESIS, it read. Another pointed to the blacked-in hair between her legs – ANTITHESIS. Well thought Affenlight, that about covers it.”
I’m not sure what the main plot is and which are the minor plots. The interactions are interesting and in some cases rather surprising bordering on not believable. One thing is constant is the attention to Henry and “his wing.” Fear of success is certainly a main theme in this novel.