The new Atlantic is out, with a rip job on Chad Harbach’s wonderful novel, The Art of Fielding.
Actually, Harbach’s novel isn’t absolutely wonderful, and B.R. Myers does a decent job of pointing out ways it could be better. He says it’s nice but shallow, and doesn’t “deepen the experience of living,” which Myers contends is what readers used to expect of “literary novels.” Nor is it even a “sustained display of writerly cleverness”—the new standard. The best writing is at the beginning, says Myers, and I suppose it is. The book has flaws.
It also has virtues Myers doesn’t pay attention to. That’s a mistake, because Myers needs to make a case for The Art of Fielding as actually being a literary novel that must be held to either standard. He pretty much says it’s not. He doesn’t care. “Sometimes,” he declares, “the only way to counter the literary establishment’s corruption of standards is to take a highly praised trifle apart.” This must be done even though it puts the critic into what Myers calls a “catch-22”-type quandary: “You may not dismiss a highly praised novel as unworthy of notice until you have finished it. Never mind the classic fiction you’d rather take care of first.”