Someone who doesn’t think The Art of Fielding is Abner Doubleday’s gift to baseball. Or something like that; it’s all about the metaphors.
Richard Peterson, an author and editor of books on the national pastime, published this critique in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch which starts off
The celebration of “The Art of Fielding” as the World Series champion of baseball novels began immediately. Early reviews placed it in the lofty company of Bernard Malamud’s “The Natural,” Philip Roth’s “The Great American Novel” and Mark Harris’ “Bang the Drum Slowly.” Kirkus and Amazon have picked it as one of the year’s best. But, after I eagerly bought and read Chad Harbach’s first book, which came out this fall, I was puzzled by the hype because I didn’t think it was much of a baseball novel.
…”The Art of Fielding,” even with its social issues and literary trappings, strikes out because its plot is right out of juvenile baseball fiction and its artistry seems more showmanship than myth making. (“After each ball, he dropped back into his feline crouch, the fingertips of his small glove scraping the cooked earth.”)
But here’s where it actually gets a bit disturbing
Harbach’s plot bears a striking resemblance to the formula used by John Tunis, a writer of 1940s juvenile novels. In “Highpockets,” Tunis’ most popular novel, a self-absorbed ballplayer of exceptional talent learns about life after injuring a young boy, and then goes on to help win a championship with an Enos Slaughter-inspired dash around the bases. In “Fielding,” a self-absorbed ballplayer of flawless skill learns about life after accidentally injuring a teammate and then helps win a championship with his own mad dash around the bases.
With all the discussion about plagiarism these past few years, what is Peterson saying? Truth be told, there are really only so many themes you can come up with so the chances of finding something totally original would seem to be slim.
Literary fans might take the fall-back position that Fielding is not really about baseball, so complaints that it’s not a “baseball novel” are nebulous.
Will this open the “floodgates” for more reviews that are less than the glowing ones we’ve seen, practically before the book was even written? I don’t want to sound like a h8er, but having read the columns and listened to the interviews, it almost reminds me of the cool kids in school who kept the hoi poloi out of their elite circle.