I finished The Art of Fielding (I committed!) a few nights ago and my mind has been lingering over it ever since. Harbach's rendering of college life reminded me a little of my own idyllic experience. And back-to-school time always makes me think of my first days at Mills.
|First day at Mills, so dorky.|
Coming from a place where it took 30 minutes just to get to school and I had to drive or be driven to see friends, I relished completely living so closely with all the other students, the "we're in this together" mentality, the complete immersion in academic life. I loved walking out my door and being steps away from class or my favorite study spot at the library or my friends.
In The Art of Fielding, Harbach writes about the feeling of never wanting to leave college, the cocoon where your requirement is to learn and think, to digest ideas and produce ideas, but also being faced with everything that comes after, an unknown future, on the very cusp of life.
Life speeds up after school, it just starts whistling by. Looking back, there's a delicate slowness to college and those years take on a mythic haze. It's over in a flash, but when you're in it, the repetition, the many books and pages, the hours reading, the endless tapping out of papers, all coalesce to create this heady block of time. There is so much at stake in the moment, and the future is both beautiful and unsure.
I like what Josh Wilker writes in the LA Review of Books:
Harbach's novel is saturated with baseball, though the sport is used not as an end in itself but as a way to measure American beauty. This might explain why a couple of friends of mine expressed qualms with the baseball in the novel, namely that there are some facets of the baseball action that are off-puttingly unrealistic. For instance, the shortstop who serves as the novel's fulcrum, Henry Skrimshander, is utterly flawless. This is just impossible, my friends said. Baseball players, especially shortstops (who handle more chances than any other player), are bound to make occasional errors. For my part, I went with the notion of Henry's diamond-pure life completely. Perhaps this is because I embraced from very early on a kind of quasi-mythic golden light that bathes the proceedings. Though The Art of Fielding is a baseball novel, it's not really a baseball novel. It's a college novel. It's about a feeling, a myth we help create for ourselves, of being right on the border of a life of boundless possibilities.