On the outside, it is a book about baseball, but at the heart is a book about surviving. Surviving college, life, love and relationships of taking chances and living life in the moment, of making mistakes and picking yourself back up, dusting yourself off and getting back in the game.
I don’t think you have to be a baseball fan to enjoy this book, but I think it does help. The main plot revolves around Henry Skrimshander and his dream of playing baseball. From the time he was a little kid, Henry has wanted to be a shortstop like his idol, Aparicio Rodriguez. He carries around a copy of Aparicio’s book The Art of Fielding with him everywhere.
The novel revolves around five people whose lives become inter-twined at Westish College -Henry Skrimshander, Mike Schwartz, Pella Affenlight, Owen Dunne and Guert Affenlight. As the baseball season progresses, a bad throw by Henry brings these five people closer together and changes each of them.
I had mixed feelings before reading this book, it was given so much hype – which isn’t always a good thing, but I’m glad I read it. I really liked it a lot. I loved Henry but Mike Schwartz was my favorite character. Not only was he dedicated to his teammates and gave each his unfailing loyalty but his personality and the fact that he was really just a good guy trying to be someone.
Harbach has brought new life to the age old story of the American pastime. When he describes the scenes on the field, it’s like you are standing there with Skrim and Schwartzy, you can smell the worn leather and sweat.
It can be at times a little pretentious and there are some big words thrown in that made me think they were just put in there to showy but overall, I think Harbach’s writing is clean and tight.
What I really disliked was Guert and his lust driven relationship. I don’t want to ruin anything and throw spoilers in there but it was really creepy and I didn’t enjoy his chapters. I think Harbach was trying to give Guert a sympathetic edge but I just couldn’t accept it. And although I liked Owen, even though he was a bit over the top and I can’t see any college age kid speaking the way he does, I didn’t really see the point of him having as big a part as he does.
Parts of the novel were tedious (Guert/Owen) and some were unbelievable. Mike’s devastation and depression, Owen’s love, Mike’s forgiveness of Henry and Pella and do these characters ever sleep? Obviously not, Henry and Mike are at the stadium running as early as four a.m., not to mention spending ridiculous amounts of time in the gym, yet they still manage to go to all of their classes and be top performing students – on no sleep.
The ending was surprising and I thought it was going a different way but I’m glad it ended the way it did, to have it end any other way I would have been unhappy with it.
Overall, I think it was an incredibly well-written first novel. The characters are great, the names alone are unique – Skrimshander, Pella Affenlight, Aparicio but it’s probably not something I would read again.