implacably. There was nothing really all that restless about The Art of Fielding, and for reasons MRP got into in a comment back when, Harbach is a little too East Coast Privilege to write a great American novel, stuck as he is in the Franzen-y mindset.
1) Which, despite all of that, I think he really did a good job digging into his Wisco past to get at the Midwesterniness of the people in this book.
"This is how the world worked. Implacably. Irrevocably."
That quote might sound a bit too Calvinist for some, but I think I like it a lot as a mindset. A secular Lord's Prayer for the slate-grey skies that I (and maybe you) grew up under. The world is not for joy or for pleasantries but for making something out of it. Baseball, therefore, works well as a frame for the novel and for the mindset for how it demands unyielding attention to detail (Votto) or elect, unearthly talent (Puig) in order to make something of it.
The deck is rigged; and rigged in a way more deep and twisted than a guy who went to Harvard undergrad and a UVa MFA could probably realize and definitely more than my own white, male, ass could figure. It's with this mindset that Guert sits down and is told "'Ethics' is not your angle right now."
Is there room for ethics in such a world? I remember in high school, learning about Calvinism, and the kids arguing that, "if we're all doomed anyways, why not Get Mine while I can?" It's tempting, this objectivist streak, and probably moreso to the be-Mercedesed Cubs fans in my neck of the Chicago suburbs. But it misses the point, as Guert shows in Chapters 72 & 73.
I'm willing to be told that Guert was a bit paternalistic here, and I have in my notes "What's with him being Westish Dad all of the sudden?" but with his own personal situation completely fucked, Guert tacks sharply on his personal doom. Saving Pella and Henry, the two people in the book more screwed than him, shows what a determined person can do within a predetermined world; make it better for everyone else. I'm glad that my spidey-sense for Guert needing to get Henry out of his funk was right. Hearkening back to Schwartzy's mantra on coaching, Guert needed to tell Henry exactly what he wanted to be told. And Pella needed to make it her decision to make the most out of her life, not her father's, not David's, and not Schwartz'. Guert perfectly sets the table for her to make her own decision to stay at Westish, does he not? He may suddenly become Team Dad, but he also becomes a wonderful father just in time.
Any thoughts on the meaning of his dream? I'm at a loss.
2) I miss home, wherever that may be.
"It was no worse than any place else, and it was theirs."
Cincinnati is not a very good city. The Ohio River is, all said and done, maybe the sixth- or seventh-best river in the United States. The children conceived when Ron Gant crushed a third-inning home run to one of the 53,276 fans packed into Riverfront on October 6 are going to college this year, and the Bengals are better off not talked about (side note: who the hell is Thomas Howard?). We have problems, and unlike in New York or maybe San Francisco, we're ready to admit it. But at least it's ours. Right?
3) The game itself was for me a bit too Matt Christopher. But it's still a cracking read. I was pretty sure I knew what was coming, but actually definitely didn't. The speeches are also way too war movie, but "We all believe we're God" was pretty inspiring in its own right.
The culmination here reminded me of probably my favorite sports analysis I've ever read, by Yago Colas in The Classical writing about Manu Ginobili, "Man Without A Plan."
The trick, Manu’s play seems to say, lies neither in having a plan nor in not having a plan, but in never letting your opponent know whether you have one or not. Yet, as in any good con, the apparent revelation of the trick is really only the last trap for the mark. There is always another twist, another trick, a truth yet to be revealed
It took my wife, who observes basketball with the unplanning eyes of a beginner, to see that in the case of Manu’s game, the final twist may be this: whether or not he really does or only appears to have or not have a plan, Manu really, really does know that you do have a plan. That and he knows what that plan is. (And you don’t know that he knows, but it wouldn’t matter if you did because you are a planner and so you’ll always have a plan and someone can always crack its code.)
I would really just want to copy/paste the whole article, but instead you should read it. Reading Art of Fielding through Colas' mind -- and watching baseball through the same lens -- allows for a possibility I've never seen; baseball as Cops & Robbers.
The pitcher has a plan to get the hitter out. The hitter has a plan to get around the pitcher's plan. The hitter knows what his weaknesses are, and he knows what the pitcher thinks his weaknesses are. The same for the pitcher. They're each setting each other up for failure knowing that one of them will prevail, and although the house (or the police state) always wins, the true genius is seen in flummoxing them when they don't.
Baseball is a heist film, and Joey Votto is Danny Ocean incarnate.
4) I don't want to talk too much about the last two chapters of the book, because I didn't explicitly say we were going to read them, and they are anyways too strange to talk about without giving up some sort of spoiler. Which isn't to say it's not awesome, since it certainly is. I do want to say that this is my favorite spring training aphorism so far in the world:
A harvest of dusty-white fruit
I'm glad that we didn't get one of those "Here is what happens next for them" that happens in too many sports books, that we're stuck wondering what the next steps are, particularly for Skrimmer. I don't know if I would do the same thing he did in his situation, but I'm curious to hear what you think.
5) I'm not sure if I did this Book Club right. I've been making it up as I go along, but I hope you've enjoyed it. The nature of the enterprise makes it a bit navel-gazing, but there's been enough back-and-forth in the comments to make me think that you've enjoyed it. We've got real baseball coming up now, with Big Questions surrounding four starters, and who knows what else. But hopefully this little thing has made the winter pass a little quicker for y'all.