on September 7th 2011
At Westish College, a small school on the shore of Lake Michigan, baseball star Henry Skrimshander seems destined for big league stardom. But when a routine throw goes disastrously off course, the fates of five people are upended.
Henry’s fight against self-doubt threatens to ruin his future. College president Guert Affenlight, a longtime bachelor, has fallen unexpectedly and helplessly in love. Owen Dunne, Henry’s gay roommate and teammate, becomes caught up in a dangerous affair. Mike Schwartz, the Harpooners’ team captain and Henry's best friend, realizes he has guided Henry’s career at the expense of his own. And Pella Affenlight, Guert’s daughter, returns to Westish after escaping an ill-fated marriage, determined to start a new life.
As the season counts down to its climactic final game, these five are forced to confront their deepest hopes, anxieties, and secrets. In the process they forge new bonds, and help one another find their true paths. Written with boundless intelligence and filled with the tenderness of youth, The Art of Fielding is an expansive, warmhearted novel about ambition and its limits, about family and friendship and love, and about commitment—to oneself and to others.
Since I work in a bookstore, I see a lot of books come into the store. I have my own little system of picking and choosing which books make it into my “to read” pile and which book make it to my “someday pile”. This book caught my attention right away and went straight into my “to read” pile. Unfortunately it took me a year to finally pick it up. It only took me about a week to finish it but these characters will live in my mind forever.
Before I start my review I just want to point out the amazing names in this book. Henry Skrimshander, Guert and Pella Affenlight, Adam Starblind…I love them all!
This story has 5 main characters that are all intertwined together, each trying to overcome a major obstacle in their lives.
Henry gets recruited out of high school to play baseball at Westish. He is a scrawny kid with excellent instincts and social issues. For the first few weeks, Henry is lonely and lost. As the baseball season nears, the captain of the baseball (and football) team, Mike Schwartz, starts training Henry. The workouts are extreme and never ending but slowly Henry falls into a routine and eventually becomes the starting shortstop for the team. Everything is going great until Henry throws a rogue ball that, with a bit of wind, changes him forever.
Mike Schwartz is the captain of both the baseball and football teams and his body reminds him of this every day. His knees are shot, his back is shot and his pill intake keeps increasing. Mike didn’t have much of anything growing up, in fact he dropped out of high school to work after his mom passed away from cancer. He started living on his own when he was 14. The only reason he ended up at Westish at all is because his coach made him come back to play ball. The only thing Mike wants out of life is to get into Law school but when he finds out he didn’t get into any of the schools he applied for, he doesn’t take it so well.
President Guert Affenlight has returned to Westish after being a student there himself. He is a 60 year old man that has taught at Harvard and published a book. He has had a reputation of being a ladies man in his past but he seems to have settled down. He has a daughter, Pella, whose mother passed away when she was young. When Affenlight was at Westish, he discovered that Herman Melville actually visited the college back in the 1880s. This discovery sparked the re-branding of the school. A statue of Melville was brought in and they officially became the Harpooners. Guert lives on campus, works hard and seems to be in a pretty good place in his life, until he meets and falls in love Owen Dunne. Not only is it against every rule and policy the school has, but this is uncharted territory for Guert and it could cost him his career, his reputation and his daughter.
Pella Affenlight was a young high school student when David came to lecture at her private school. It wasn’t much longer after that, she gave up Yale and ran off with him, he was 31. The marriage last 4 years before she decided to leave San Francisco and head back to Westish to repair her relationship with her dad. Deeply depressed, tired and broke down she meets Mike Schwartz. The couple seems to be just what the other needs to make it through. The relationship tumbles when Pella cheats on Mike with another ball player, not just any ball player… Just when Pella thinks they won’t ever get back together, a campus death brings them closer than they ever have been.
Owen Dunn is Henry’s gay mulatto roommate. He is at Westish for winning the prestigious Maria Westish scholarship award. Owen is a neat freak baseball player (who reads books in the dugout with a light strapped to his ballcap) that smokes a lot of pot. One day, Owen meets disaster while at a game and ends up in the hospital. When the affair with Affenlight started, Owen is just having fun but after a few of Affenlights visits in the hospital, Owen realizes he does want to be with Guert. But this affair is doomed before it really gets started, and the aftermath may just doom Owen forever.
I can genuinely say this book made me laugh out loud, cry and yearn for more. I was sucked into the Westish atmosphere immediately and when the book was over, I didn’t want to leave it. I was so engrossed with the story, the characters flitted into my life throughout the day and I would find myself wondering how each of them was going to handled the situation that was thrown at them. The ending…oh the ending. I have read a lot of books. I have read books with similar endings that have upset me to a point that the book goes sailing across the room. I found this ending to be very fitting in a way. Sad, fitting and beautiful.
It’s time for summer reading in my store and I am happy to report I have sold this book three times since I finished it and I will continue to do so because I love it so.