Sunday, November 20, 2011
Diamonds are forever: The ending of The Art of Fielding
Well, yes, Chad Harach's "The Art of Fielding" does conclude on the diamond, as it should, though - as I expected and hoped - not in a Chip Hilton heroic magical ending but with a touch of sadness and missed opportunities. It's truly a coming of age novel, particularly in regard to the main and by far the most interesting character, Henry - the shortstop who loses his ability to throw. We never actually do learn why that happened - a psychologist whom he's seeing toward the end offers some pat explanation about an oedipal conflict with the older player, Schwartz - but it almost feels as if an editor made Harbach splice that explainer into the text. The national championship baseball game strains credibility in a number of ways: a player would take a phone call during the game? He would share some bad news he heard with another player? A player would deliberately put his face in the way of a fastball? And they'd let him stay in the game afterwards? - but the game does move the story toward its real two-part conclusion: the burial at sea of Affenlight (a scene coyly reminiscent of Four Weddings & a Funeral) and Schwartz hitting grounders to Henry, very nice last scene. M and I agree that we never warmed up or got to the character of Affenlight (or his daughter, Pella, for that matter) - I find it troubling that Harbach at least seems to want us to feel sympathy for Affenlight - he's meant to be, I think, a grand failure, something like the father figure in the excellent novel Gorgeous Lies - but in fact it's absolutely impossible to believe he would be so reckless and in fact unethical in having a relationship with a student, male or female. From the outside, he looks like either a predator or a fool - but from the inside of the novel, he's meant to be heroic. To me, this turns out to be a very readable and smart novel though I wish it were focused on the players rather than the adults.