The title of Mr Harbach's novel, that'd be the one I'm reading, comes from a fictional book (The Art of Fielding) by a fictional shortstop (Rodriguez Aparicio) that is the bible to Mr Harbach's fictional shortstop (Henry Skrimshander); it's full of pithy stuff like "The shortstop is a source of stillness at the center of the defense. He projects this stillness and his teammates respond." (Somehow this now reminds me of the scene in The Wind and the Lion in which Candace Bergen responds to the Sean Connery character saying, as they play chess, "It is the will of Allah. I am but an instruments of that will. It is the wind that passes, but the sea remains" with, "A stitch in time saves nine. Your move.") The realization I have reached is that I would less annoyed if I were reading the shortstop's book, inferior though it obviously would be to Pure Baseball. This New York Times "book of the year" novel--it really pretty much sucks.
And I may be driven to put it that way because the thing that is really truly irritating me about this book is the idiocy of the language (see also, the title for this post which is my homage to some of the word choices). A woman showing a visitor her house, "explicates the virtues of California closets." Elsewhere the college president holds up "a placative hand." And then there's this:
He'd told Pella he needed to work until four, whereupon they'd drive to Door County to buy her some new clothes. He drove fast and parked the Audi. The glass doors of St. Anne's parted to grant him entrance.
The story itself is no great shakes and also not particularly innovative: there are some parts done so much better by Evelyn Waugh in Brideshead Revisited and other parts done back in the early 1990s by Donna Tartt in The Secret History. Possibly there are some would-be echoes of Franny and Zooey as well. I guess I've left out the baseball part. (Did Salinger ever write about baseball? You'd think he would have done.) Possibly that's because I just can't bear to think of David James Duncan's The Brothers K existing in the same universe as The Art of Fielding. Waugh, Salinger, and Duncan know their way around a sentence and a paragraph and if they use a word, they use it knowing it's the right word for the job. You don't read those guys and wonder what sort of defective word-a-day calendar they got in last year's white elephant gift exchange.
Earlier today Scott told me, as I was going on in much this same vein (but also getting the leaves raked), that The Art of Fielding had been rejected by a lot of publishers before someone, perhaps John Irving (who gives it a blurb--"easy to read" is apparently a powerful endorsement), recommended it to a publisher. This anecdote, true or not, keeps me from despairing entirely about the state of American publishing.
Being me, I will read the remaining 140 pages of The Art of Fielding but then, oh then, I pray I'll read something less wretched.