At the end of our meeting to discuss The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, I asked if I was correct in concluding that the majority of the group enjoyed the book. I had been told by a few individuals how much they liked it and our discussion had been lively, so I was surprised when I was met with less enthusiasm than I expected. In an unusual turn, one member shared that she had liked the book more before our discussion! Our first responder had also had an unusual reaction to the book, at first fully engaged and interested in the main character Henry, and then angry and uninterested in the new characters that were introduced.
She stayed with the book, though, and brought up some interesting starter questions. It reminded her of our previous selection, Boys in the Boat, and she wondered if anyone else thought that Henry had gone into a slump because he didn’t want to break his idol’s record. Others thought he didn’t want to leave school.
One of us asked why Pela was even in the story, finding her irritating. A couple of us had thought of her as the designated college slut, which made us wonder about the author’s view of women (probably not positive!). No one considered Henry’s relationship with Pela as love. Why was Owen’s mother in the story? Since the author wrote the book over ten years, perhaps he added characters over time (and unnecessarily)? Did Pela’s experience with depression help her help Henry? Why didn’t she get him to the hospital? Harpooners, heart and harlot? Did anyone else find the name of the team, Harpooners, funny? Was the sexual innuendo intentional?
What did we think of Guert? One of us thought that he was looking out for everyone –the college, his daughter, Owen, Henry, Schwarz. But was he a good father? Not to Pela. He seemed to belong to everyone. To my surprise, we didn’t discuss Guert’s sexuality much. I had a problem with the 40-year age difference; the most outspoken of us seemed to think the problem was only in the student-administrator relationship.
And what about Owen? Why does Harbach never write from Owen’s point of view (publisher discussion question)? One of us thought it made Owen more mysterious, more sage-like, which fits with his nickname, Buddha. He also was more flamboyant, perhaps more caricaturish than necessary. Or perhaps he was more accepting of himself, the only one not questioning his future or his place in the world, just living it.
One member was interested in the idea of “monomania” as typical in sports and portrayed realistically in the book. He shared that it is common for catchers in baseball to be leaders, like Schwartz. Several people agreed – like the coxswain in The Boys in the Boat. “Catchers are the thinking position.”
We mentioned books, movies and songs. Even before the meeting started we had discussed how life is stranger than fiction. Our previous book club selection The Children Act is being played out in recent news reports about baby Charlie. We were spread out over two lengths of tables and sometimes several people were talking and not always being heard or understood. One member made us all laugh when he said that he hadn’t finished the book, didn’t really like baseball, and the sex wasn’t good enough.
Thanks to all who came out into our extra summer humid heat – and shared the experience with us!
- Other Works Discussed:
- The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics (2013) by Daniel James Brown
- Ladder of Years (1995) by Anne Tyler
- Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game (2003) by Michael Lewis
- The Natural (1952) Bernard Malamud
- The Phenomenon: Pressure, the Yips, and the Pitch that Changed My Life (2017) by Rick Ankiel
- “Tired of Being Blonde” (1985) song performed by Carly Simon
From MM, who had been unable to attend our meeting:
It took me awhile to get into it, which may be why I didn’t finish it on time for the meeting. Once I got half way into it, though , I found it hard to put down. I liked the characters, especially Schwartzy and Henry. I think the reason Henry couldn’t throw with confidence after awhile is because he started thinking about it too much and forgot to let everything come naturally. I have seen this happen with professional tennis players; Roger Federer most recently. They have to find a way to rebuild their confidence and continue on. It’s a psychological thing and very difficult to conquer. Roger Federer was able to do that. I think Henry will, too. I was glad he decided to finish school and play baseball with The Harpooners another year, especially since Schwartzy was going to be there. I disagreed with Henry’s psychiatrist that dependency on Mike Schwartz was part of Henry’s problem. I think one more year to “get his feet back on the ground” at college will bring him back to his natural abilities and he’ll be drafted again the following year. It was a wise decision on his part.
I don’t know if this is true or not, but I wonder if the author is gay, and that is partially why he portrayed Pella in a negative light.
Here are a couple of occurrences in the story that I did not like: I did not like that Pella actually swallowed the earring her husband gave her. I don’t think that would have happened in real life and I thought it was stupid. Pella seemed too cool to do something so immature and idiotic. I also felt her Dad should have been at the dinner meeting as he promised. He kept saying in the story that he hoped to build a better relationship with Pella, and this was something huge for her, she asked for his help, which I don’t think happened before, and he should have been there for her.