I liked it; the reviews were well-deserved. It indeed is a cross between The Mysteries of Pittsburgh and The Universal Baseball Association, J. Henry Waugh, Prop.
What struck me most, though, was the contrast with Indecision, the novel by Harbach’s associate, Benjamin Kunkel. As I noted a few years ago, Indecision was notable in that all the characters had agency. That is, each character had his or her own ideas and seemed to act on his or her own ideas, rather than merely carrying the plot along or providing scenery. In contrast, the most gripping drama in The Art of Fielding seem to be characters’ struggling with their plot-determined roles (hence the connection with Coover’s God-soaked baseball classic). Also notable to me was that the college-aged characters not being particularly obsessed with sex—I guess this is that easy-going hook-up culture I keep reading about—while at the same time, just about all the characters seem to be involved in serious drug addiction. I’ve read books where one character or another is an alcoholic or a chain-smoker or whatever, but it’s not so usual to see a book where alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana are so central to just about everyone’s life.
That said, I’m not claiming that Indecision is a better novel than The Art of Fielding. I read Indecision a few years ago and now I can remember vary little about it. The Art of Fielding is much more focused, and I’m guessing it will remain clear in my mind even in 2017. I very much enjoyed reading it.