Why fans of The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach should read The Good Body by Bill Gaston
Chad Harbach's debut novel, The Art of Fielding, was one of the most talked about novels of 2011. It follows the fortunes of a baseball star at a small American college who looks to be headed for the big leagues until a bad throw pushes his career off course.
Columnist Angie Abdou, whose most recent book is Home Ice, shares what made this book a critical darling and identifies The Good Body by Bill Gaston as its Canadian counterpart.
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
"At the start of the novel, [the protagonist Henry] is incredibly talented. He has this gift that every athlete wishes for and he thinks he's going to make it to the big leagues. Scouts are showing up at his college games and he's named his glove 'Zero' because he has zero errors. But then a ball goes astray and hits his friend and teammate Owen in the head. Owen gets a concussion and recovers, but Henry doesn't. It throws him off and he starts thinking too much. Suddenly he can't do anything. He's second guessing everything and his game falls apart.
"Mike Schwartz is my favourite character in the book. He's at the end of his career and very much self-identifies as a jock. He's captain of the football team and baseball team, but he sees that all coming to an end and is trying to figure out what he's going to be next. He's taken Henry under his wing and mentored him, but also struggles against jealousy because Henry has this tremendous gift. Their relationship changes as Henry's gift changes and Henry's identity, which is so tied up in being the star of the team, falls apart. He falls into this big depression and goes into hiding... How he rebuilds and re-decides who he is, is the big theme of the book."
The Good Body by Bill Gaston
"Again we're on a campus and again we're in a sport, hockey. Bobby Bonaduce is a washed up old athlete and finds out that he has MS. His health is failing. He doesn't know how long he's going to live. He's in his 40s, but he decides he's going to back to the university in New Brunswick and try out for the hockey team so that he can play with his son, Jason. He hasn't had as good a relationship with his son. He sacrificed that because he's been on the road. But suddenly it seems very important to him to establish that bond.
"Bobby has to find a different identity because he's always thought of himself as a 'body person.' He himself makes a distinction between body people and head people. He lies his way into graduate school by plagiarizing a bunch of poems from literary journals no one reads. He becomes more and more of a head person as his body fails him. Bill [the author] was a very high level hockey player himself, so he knows the sport and he captures the beauty of it. He says that people don't realize there are different kinds of intelligence. The intelligence of a perfectly executed play, that kind of physical intelligence is beautifully written."
Angie Abdou's comments have been edited for length and clarity.