February With the Litwits: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

Another book club Sunday has come and gone.  And, as always, we had a marvelous time.  We had several new ladies this month who were wonderful to meet and I hope they had a good time and will continue to read along with us!

As for the book, most everyone enjoyed it on some level.  We praised Harbach for his ability to draw interestingly complex characters even though they often frustrated us to no end.  The writing is really on a higher level than many other contemporary authors – we learned new words, read some beautiful sentences, and found much to praise in Harbach’s technique.  I particularly appreciated how the novel was intelligent without being pretentious, although there are a couple of pretentious characters.

Some members loved the book’s pacing while others believed the narrative to wax and wane.  For me, the novel started off a bit slow because I had no clue what the point was or where the story was going, but about halfway through I could not put this book down.  The characters were just so engrossing even though most of them weren’t the kind of people you liked, but they felt honest in their waywardness and their utter lack of direction.  Each character deals with a search for identity, especially in the aftermath of having the person they thought they were ripped out from underneath them.  And everyone loved Owen – hands down our favorite character.

We discussed the implausibility of many situations our protagonists found themselves in – from how they deal with their mortality and death to their ideas about relationships and love.  The ending left some wondering what happens next and would we be willing to read a sequel.  Most of the characters are in their early twenties with so much life left ahead of them – we left the novel caring about where they’d end up in 20 or 30 years.

Harbach has created a moving novel about the quest for identity, the hunt for the American ideal, and the love for a book called Moby Dick.  He writes a story wrapped in baseball and all its superstitions where baseball transcends sport into a metaphor for life – an American life of hopes and dreams both fulfilled and unfulfilled, and those still in process.  And if I’m being honest, I might have cried just a bit at the end which hardly ever happens to me.  Something I can’t quite place my finger on captivated me in a way that genuinely surprised me and turned on the waterworks.  The Art of Fielding is the kind of book I know I’ll reread again and again, learning something new each time.  Highly recommended read.

Next month we’ll be reading Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin!