I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.
At first glance, ART OF FIELDING looks like your standard baseball novel. Since I am not a huge fan of baseball, I was a little cautious about approaching this book. I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised.
Baseball provides the framework of a story about five people at a small Eastern college. Henry Skrimshander has made a religion out of being a flawless shortstop. His ambition ends there until he is discovered by college player Mike Schwartz. Schwartz convinces Henry to dream bigger and encourages him to come and play at Westish College. This fateful meeting sets loose a chain of events that will affect a number of people including Henry's gay college roommate Owen, the President of the University, Guert Affenlight and Affenlight's directionless daughter Pella. When Henry makes a fateful error during a Westish game, their lives are all changed forever.
What makes this story successful are how authentic and real the characters are. They are flawed, complex human beings and Harbach takes the time to really flesh out the characters. Each one is likeable in his/her own way and yet each of them struggles to overcome his/her near tragic flaws. I couldn't help but get caught up in their stories. Harbach does some referencing of MOBY DICK in this story and baseball becomes the white whale of several of the characters.
BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. While some of the prose comes off as a bit silly, this is an excellent freshman effort. I really enjoyed the book and look forward to seeing what Harbach offers next.