It seems as if everybody at fictional Westish College is hoping to be chosen—whether it's by a professional baseball team (freshman Henry Skrimshander), a prestigious law school (team captain Mike Schwartz), or a lover (Henry's preternaturally calm roommate, Owen Dunne; college president Guert Affenlight; his daughter, Pella). But as Chad Harbach's astonishingly assured yet seemingly effortless novel The Art of Fielding
(Little, Brown) makes painfully clear, there is simply no such thing as a sure thing. Yes, there are obviously good moves—"Putting Henry at shortstop...was like taking a painting that had been shoved in a closet and hanging it in the ideal spot. You instantly forgot what the room had looked like before"—but some events can't be controlled. Baseballs go awry, for starters; ditto human expectations, needs, and passions. You'll recognize some of Harbach's characters—the bad girl who eventually comes home to Daddy—and revel in the winningly distinctive ones (Owen's elegant mother, who thinks she's interested in Guert Affenlight; the dining hall manager who employs and inspires Pella; Mike Schwartz, the not-so-gentle giant). Yes, sport is the metaphor here, but it is only that; this is a wonderful tale of youth, ambition, love, and a little, unpredictable thing called life. In other words, it's a whole other ballpark.
— Sara Nelson