I just finished reading “The Art of Fielding,” by Chad Harbach. It has a lot of wonderful writing and I found it engaging, despite my having only a marginal interest in baseball and a low tolerance for reading about guys being guys. (In fact, I know so little about baseball that when the fictional Aparicio Rodriguez is introduced my thought was, “Is that A-Rod?”) And yet there’s something bothering me about this book.
This book arrived on the scene with Major Buzz. Not to make light of the 10 long hard years Harbach worked on it, but this book was anointed. It was on all the “best of 2011” lists, was a finalist for the National Book Awards, and was among the favorites not selected for this year’s Pulitzer in fiction. A Vanity Fair article and, later, an e-book, was written about it. It carries a blurb by Jonathan Franzen, among distinguished others, and has inspired comparisons to David Foster Wallace. HBO is reportedly making a film of it.
And yet...and yet...there are things that bother me. There are cliches (Owen, impossibly cool, stylish, handsome, brilliant, fanatically clean, AND effortlessly athletic, introduces himself with “I’ll be your gay mulatto roommate”); verbal tics (who uses “freshperson” without irony? who uses it all the time?); and ham-handed plot devices (was ever a death more conveniently timed?) In a climatic scene a character reads an excerpt from “Moby Dick,” a book intimately entwined with this one, and the excerpt is not given. What’s that about? Sure, you can Google it, but was this intended only for readers who would know it? Surely a trusted mentor, not to mention a good editor, might have steered Harbach away from some of this.
And there’s one more thing. Just indulge me for a minute, but I’m trying to picture a big fat good read about women doing “women things” (though I’m not sure what that would be--shopping? primping? cooking dinner? studying neurobiology? applying for a Fulbright? Ok, I’m ranting.) in a book that has only one major male character getting one-tenth the literary respect that this book has received. Or even getting published.
I’m just saying.