The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

I am interested in reading books with a Wisconsin connection—either the author is from Wisconsin or the setting is Wisconsin. In this case both the author and the setting have a Wisconsin connection. Chad Harbach grew up in Racine and has set his debut novel The Art of Fielding in Wisconsin at a fictional college called Westish which is somewhere north of Milwaukee and south of Door County.

 In the summer of his sophomore year, Mike Schwartz, who plays catcher for Westish College, sees Henry Skrimshander at a baseball tournament and is amazed at the scrawny shortstop’s ability. Mike sets things in motion to have Henry go to Westish College and is Henry’s mentor. Henry’s hero is a fictional shortstop named Aparicio Rodriguez who wrote The Art of Fielding. Henry’s roommate is Owen Dunne, a self-assured, gay, black man and baseball teammate. Guert Affenlight is the 60 year old president of the college who has become infatuated with Owen. Affenlight’s daughter Pella has come back to Westish after a failed marriage. Most of the book deals with the events during the spring of Henry’s junior year when professional baseball scouts are eyeing Henry. Then Henry makes a mistake when throwing and knocks Owen unconscious. This saps his confidence in throwing. Meanwhile Affenlight has started an affair with Owen, and Pella takes up with Mike.

There are references to Lake Michigan, Milwaukee, Door County, Appleton and Green Bay as well as fictional places such as UW-Grand Chute. The setting is focused on the college campus, and the plot is focused on baseball and the intertwined lives of Henry, Mike, Owen, Pella, and President Affenlight. This is a book about baseball, relationships, and self-realization and a coming-of-age novel with some descriptions of drinking, drugs, and sex as the characters deal with their problems. It got excellent reviews, is on the bestseller list, and would make a good book club book. 




John Irving-esque?

I'm currently about 2/3 of the way through this book. So far I am really enjoying it; it doesn't hurt that all of WI is gripped by baseball mania while the Brewers go for the pennant.
The tone and general atmosphere created by Harbach reminds me a lot of John Irving novels. The multitude of characters, the relationships between them, the isolated but deeply drawn setting, and the feeling of a complete world in which the characters operate all remind me a lot of books like "The World According to Garp" or "A Prayer for Owen Meany". If you like John Irving books, you may enjoy this novel too.

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