■ infn ■ → #Harbach (5) #LGBTQ
The Art of Fielding combines three of my favorite things: baseball, Moby Dick, and queers. First, and most obviously, the book is about baseball—specifically, about a college baseball team. The book follows a trio of baseball players at Westish College, a liberal arts college in Wisconsin, through their college careers. I’ve read a few reviews that, I think in an attempt to make the book appeal to a larger audience, claim the book isn’t really about baseball, but I think that does it a disservice. True, you probably don’t need to like baseball to enjoy the book; but for someone like me who loves the sport, it makes the book that much better. It has some really lovely passages about the beauty of the game, as well as a truly excruciating depiction of a player losing his game psychologically (Chuck Knoblauch has always been my go-to reference for this phenomenon, but I learned in this book that it’s more commonly referred to as Steve Blass Disease).
The baseball team is called The Harpooners and Herman Melville serves as a sort of a mascot—or at least tourist attraction—for the town Westish is located in due to the fact that he once gave a lecture there. There’s a Melville statue on campus, and the president of the college, Guert Affenlight, made a name for himself as a Melville scholar with a book called The Sperm-Squeezers. The Art of Fielding has a lot of explicit Moby Dick references like this, but it also shares a lot with it thematically. You’ve got the monomaniacal drive towards something; a group of men from disparate backgrounds working together. Harbach, in this review, puts it like this:
The Art of Fielding is in large part a book about the varieties of male friendship, from the antagonistic and the competitive to the deeply affectionate and the frankly sexual, and so Moby-Dick, taking place as it does in a very intense world of very intense men, seemed like the ideal analogue. A baseball team is a lot like a whaling ship: in each case, a group of men who might otherwise have little in common spend an inordinate amount of time in close and not-so-comfortable quarters, excluding the world, in pursuit of a common goal.
Finally, the queers. One of the subplots of the book deals with president Affenlight falling for one of the (male) baseball players. Affenlight had been straight his whole life, up until he meets this man, and one of the things I really liked about this book was how it portrayed with that. Neither Affenlight nor the book spend a lot of time worrying about sexual orientation; Affenlight doesn’t have a sudden realization that he’s actually gay and didn’t know it until now. He’s just a man who historically loved women and now loves another man. It’s a very queer—and honest, I think—way to do it.
It’s not just queers, Moby Dick, and baseball, though. In fact, there’s a fifth character, Affenlight’s daughter, who comes home to live with her dad after splitting up with her husband. In her (and in the other characters, too) you see one of the book’s other main themes: how to be an adult in the world; how to find something to do that gives meaning to your life. Eerily, this, too, seemed like it had been written just for me. Of course, that’s what good books do—they say something, whatever it is, that speaks directly to you, or for you. The Art of Fielding hooked me very easily, just at the premise; but I’m confident that, because it’s a good book, you don’t have to be a queer 20-something Moby Dick and baseball fan to enjoy it.
(in occasione della segnalazione su FN de L’arte di vivere in difesa, di Chad Harbach, Rizzoli 2012)