It Was Easy Enough to Write a Sentence, But …

I bought Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding as a gift for the Irishman. He’s a reader, a fan of sport (there is some baseball in the book), and I’d heard it was good.

And oh, kids, it was.

Here’s a bit* you writers might appreciate. It’s about a character named Guert Affenlight, who we meet when Guert is sixty and the president of a small midwestern U.S. university.

He’d turned twenty-five, the Age of Unfolding, and it was time to write a novel, the way his hero [Herman Melville] had. He moved to a cheap apartment in Chicago and set to work, but even as the pages accumulated, despair set in. It was easy enough to write a sentence, but if you were going to create a work of art, the way Melville had, each sentence needed to fit perfectly with the one that preceded it, and the unwritten one that would follow. And each of those sentences needed to square with the ones on either side, so that three became five and five became seven, seven became nine, and whichever sentence he was writing became the slender fulcrum on which the whole precarious edifice depended. That sentence could contain anything, anything, and so it promised the kind of absolute freedom that, to Affenlight’s mind, belonged to the artist and the artist alone. And yet that sentence was also beholden to the book’s very first one, and its last unwritten one, and every sentence in between. Every phrase, every word, exhausted him.

I knew you’d like that. :)

It’s a lovely book; I can’t get the characters out of my head. It’s been beautifully edited and beautifully copyedited. But I’ll tell you also it may not be for everyone. (It wasn’t, as it turns out, for the Irishman.)

The book took a long time to find a publisher. You can read about that in How a Book Is Born: The Making of The Art of Fielding by Keith Gessen, originally published in Vanity Fair. (This lengthy, well-written article can be found in an archival edition of the magazine—October 2011—at your local library, or you can spend $1.99 for a 53-page expansion of it for your e-reader. It’s money and time well spent, I assure you, if for nothing else but the inside look at the publishing world. And I know you’re interested in that.)

As I say, The Art of Fielding won’t be for everyone. You can check the reviews on Amazon and see that folks are divided on it, for a variety of reasons. But I loved it. I loved it because the characters felt real to me, so real they made bad decisions and behaved in ways that made me cringe (a lot like David Nicholls’s One Day, which I also loved). It was never hard to read (and yet it’s definitely a literary novel), never felt long (in spite of its five hundred–plus pages), and … well, just have a look for yourself. If you’re a student of the craft of writing, there’s a lot to observe here in characterization, POV, structure, and voice, among other things.

Me, I recommend it.

*From page 54 of the Little, Brown and Company hardback, published in September 2011.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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4 Comments

  1. Laura says:

    Well, darn…had to rearrange the TBR queue after this post. Harbach just squeezed past Murakami. That quote got me. Thanks!

  2. Wayne says:

    Judging from that ostentatious quote, I’m with the Irishman.

    • jamiechavez says:

      Ha! He’s the one who brought that quote to my attention. But emotions do run high about this book. I suspect you’ve made the right choice. :)

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