Exploring themes in Chad Harbach's debut novel
"The Art of Fielding" by Chad Harbach (Bill Hogan, Chicago Tribune / March 12, 2012)
For our first selection, "The Art of Fielding," Chad Harbach's debut novel, was the perfect choice. It's a college baseball novel that will appeal not only to the reader who dislikes sports, but also to the reader who thinks there hasn't been a good baseball novel since Ring Lardner's "You Know Me Al" or maybe Bernard Malamud's "The Natural."
Chad Harbach, who worked on this novel for more than a decade, is no minor leaguer. "The Art of Fielding" centers on Henry Skrimshander, a promising shortstop who's recruited to play baseball for the slyly named Westish College, a fictional liberal arts college on Lake Michigan in Wisconsin. There's a college president with a clandestine relationship with another player on the team. Henry's mentor and teammate, Mike Schwartz, may be the ultimate team player, and at significant cost. Pella Affenlight — the outsider in this boys' club and the daughter of the college president — punctuates the drama with her own insight.
There's an abundance of literature related to our national pastime, but it's hard to imagine a novel more knowing about the intricacies of baseball yet unencumbered by its details than "The Art of Fielding." It's a great book for discussion and can sustain multiple lines of inquiry, from the big questions (What does this novel say about self-reliance?) to small inquiries (Why did Harbach name his hero Skrimshander?).
And sometimes, what seem to be small details — like a character's name — will lead the way to the big stuff. We hope you'll read along with us and join in the discussion.
Visit chicagotribune.com/printersrow to participate online or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you'd like to attend a small group discussion at Tribune Tower at 11:30 a.m. on April 19. We'll select participants at random.