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5 Jul 2012

The Art of Epiphanic Flashes.

Written by sally @ 9:24 am — Section: sally

I ended up liking The Art of Fielding a lot. It grows on you, picks up speed, and goes in much different directions than you’d expect, which is excellent if you are baseball-resistant. While I’d say it’s more of a plot- and character-driven novel than a lyrical one, there are some gorgeous, true passages that really sing.

This one was my favorite:
“Affenlight realized in what was as close to an epiphanic flash as he’d ever dared to come that there are many ways of living that had never been named or tried” (219). Epiphanic flash! While the book DOES have a lot of baseball, it is essentially an academic novel, which I adore. (Blue Angel by Francine Prose is a really, really good academic novel as well.)

But there was another passage I found even more significant. My way of dealing with things is to take a real-life situation apart as if it were a novel and analyze it that way. What is this character’s motivation? Is there bigger significance to what he said? If I were reading this book, who would I be rooting for? What would I want that person to do in order to win my trust? Acting as though I’m living in a book makes it easier for me to figure things out. Oh, and then I read this part:

“Literature could turn you into an asshole; he’d learned that teaching grad-school seminars. It could teach you to treat real people the way you did characters, as instruments of your own intellectual pleasure, cadavers on which to practice your critical faculties” (328).

Ouch.

2 Responses to “The Art of Epiphanic Flashes.”

  1. Walter Biggins said:

    I liked it, too, though I had a mixed reaction because I have the opposite inclination: I really like baseball novels, because I think the sport can be a good metaphor for America and lens through which to view it, and I’m really ambivalent about campus novels. That last quote, about literature turning you into an asshole, is good and gets at my disinclination to novels set in/about English departments. Campus novels have their own sets of cliches, presumptions, assumptions about life, but they’re often much narrower, more abstractly driven, and less interesting than lived experience. I felt like, as I did with Blue Angel, I could see all the beats clicking off and all the plot revelations ten miles away once The Art of Fielding started focusing on the campus world rather than the baseball world.

    And, is it just me, or do few of the characters end up as more than cartoons? Does Owen Dunne ever become more complicated than the “biracial gay roommate” stereotype? (Which he even calls himself at one point?) Is Professor Affenlight’s midlife crisis any more interesting or specific to him than countless others we’ve seen in mediocre Updike novels? Does Petra evolve into more than a spoiled brat? And does Henry appear to actually learn much of anything? To my mind, the most interesting character–and most interesting transformative arc–is Schwartz. I dunno. The novel seems convinced that it’s a naturalistic, realistic (two different things) portrayal of contemporary American life but it stopped feeling real or lived in after Henry’s errant throw. Authenticity’s not always important–I love me some Thomas Pynchon, and “realistic” characterization is not, um, his strength–and there’s a place for cartoonish farce (see: P.G. Wodehouse, Douglas Adams) as a framework for exploring a society. My problem is that The Art of Fielding thinks it is realistic, and it is not.

    Jesus, I’m longwinded today. Guess who’s bored at work?

  2. Mix said:

    But there’s a difference between looking at situations at though they were fiction and trying to figure out the motivations/etc. from them and playing with the people in your life as though they were characters. Isn’t there? I hope there is, because I’m forever trying to muddle through a motivation. I do this out of neurotic necessity, though, and not because I’m trying to create a plot line. BUT WHAT IF YOU ARE ALL PAWNS IN MY GAME!

    I can’t make any comments on baseball v. academe in novels, as I have read none of the works you people are talking about. Pawns! Reading game pawns!