Monday, June 04, 2012

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, and The Final Solution by Michael Chabon

I can relate to this quote, having just started on a new Crohn's medication, and I'm feeling all sorts of new pains in my abdomen.

“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” Khalil Gibran

I'm a huge fan of the new BBC TV series, "Sherlock" and I just recently learned that there will be a new American TV series about Sherlock Holmes called "Elementary." Here's the scoop from Shelf Awareness:
Given the recent success of the BBC/PBS Masterpiece Mystery series
Sherlock, Elementary
"has either the misfortune or, I'm sure according to CBS, the great luck
to arrive this fall" as yet another contemporary incarnation of Arthur
Conan Doyle's legendary detective," Indiewire reported.

In the CBS version, which is set in New York City, Jonny Lee Miller
plays Holmes and Lucy Liu will have the "genderflipping" role of Joan
Watson. The pilot was directed by Michael Cuesta (L.I.E.).

Indiewire noted that the "Miller's take on Holmes, while eccentric, is
less prickly than Cumberbatch's U.K. version. Incidentally, Miller and
Cumberbatch starred opposite one another in Danny Boyle's National
Theatre stage production of Frankenstein, alternating between the roles
of Victor Frankenstein and the Creature."

I wanted to shout YES when I read this quote:
"The ring is small, the punches come fast and relentlessly, the contest
is a mismatch, but why shouldn't we keep swinging? Good independent
booksellers are still capable of finding talented readers in quantity
for great books, books that might not find their way through the valley
of the shadow of remainder death without our help."Robert Gray

I've finished two fascinating books this past week, Michael Chabon's "The Final Solution" which is about Sherlock Holmes at the end of his life, and "The Art of Fielding" by Chad Harbach, which has received a ton of hype and awards, including being named the NYTimes "Best Book of the Year" (I am assuming for last year, since the book is out in paperback now).
The Final Solution is a slender volume, but one that packs a hearty punch for its size. Chabon never calls his protagonist "Sherlock Holmes" but instead tells us all manner of little details about him, each an indellible part of his character, so that we know it is Holmes, albeit a decrepid and ancient Holmes, that we're dealing with. Chabon masterfully uses prose that is nearly exactly the same as Arthur  Conan Doyle's, so we're plunged into the mystery with the feeling that we've landed in familiar territory.The story revolves around a young Jewish mute who is removed to England during WWII with his African Gray Parrot, Bruno, a clever bird who has memorized some secret numbers and is being hunted by several different people, one of whom resorts to murder to obtain the bird. Holmes sets out not to solve the murder so much as to find Bruno and return him to Linus, his owner.
I highly recommend this book to Holmsian scholars and fans, from ages 12 to 95, who love to watch a master sleuth solve a mystery.
I was prepared to loathe "The Art of Fielding" because it is a book about baseball, and I am not a sports fan, and it takes place in the Midwest (Wisconsin) at a small, liberal arts college, and having attended a small liberal arts college in the Midwest (Iowa) I feared that here was yet another author set to make Midwestern people sound like laughable rubes and dupes (are you listening, Jane Smiley?).
Fortunately, I was wrong about the book, and from the first chapter, I was enchanted by the characters and their lives, as well as the strong and luscious prose that read like a cross between John Steinbeck and John Irving with a soupcon of WP Kinsella's Shoeless Joe and the Iowa Baseball Confederacy thrown in for spice.
The story takes place at Westish College, run by the handsome and affable Guert Affenlight, who has inexplicably fallen in love with a student, the lithe and wise Owen Dunne, though Affenlight has never been attracted to men before, and has a daughter, Pella, who is Owen's age. The protagonist, Henry Skrimshander, ends up being room mates with Owen, mainly because he starts school so late there are no other rooms left. Henry is something of a baseball phenom, a shortstop who never misses a ball, and he's discovered by Mike Schwartz, the college jock whose mentorship has lead many of the colleges athletes to scholarships. As it says on the back of the book "As the season counts down to its climactic final game, these five are forced to confront their deepest hopes, anxieties, and secrets. In the process, they forge new bonds and help one another find their true paths."
What the author doesn't tell you in that blurb is that we learn so much about the human spirit, the human capacity for love, and sacrifice, tragedy and triumph that you're left breathless with awe by the end, tears pouring down your cheeks, having fallen in love with these people and having prayed for their success as you would a beloved family member. I don't know how else to say it, but this is a GREAT book, one that is destined to be a classic, and one that will be read for decades to come by young and old, ebook and dead-tree readers alike. It gets an A+, and even if you don't like baseball, please read it, just for the stunning prose and wise characters alone. If you aren't crying by the time Owen, known as "Buddha" by the team, says, "You told me once that a soul isn't something a person is born with, but something that must be built, by effort and error, study and love. And you did that with more dedication than most, that work of building a soul--not for your own benefit, but for the benefit of those who knew you," you're not human.

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