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Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding is the first novel to emerge from the student loan crisis. A little over a year ago, in June 2010, the total amount of money Americans owed for student loans caught up with, then exceeded, the amount of debt we’ve incurred with credit cards. That’s the same month The Art of Fielding’s Mike Schwartz, the college senior who mentors superstar shortstop Henry Skrimshander, “would be unemployed and homeless, with a degree in history and eighty thousand dollars in student loans coming due.” According to a recent piece published in Vanity Fair (authored by Keith Gessen, who is a novelist and Harbach’s n+1 co-editor), Harbach himself graduated with student loans so usurious that he evaded paying them for a decade. (Gessen recalls Harbach triumphantly calling one of his collectors, the aggregate calls of whom had rendered Harbach’s landline unusable, and announcing he would pay, against his book advance, for one loan’s $30,000 principal.) Many historical figures have written their way out of usurious debts. It wasn’t, however, until Balzac—whose own indebtedness, like Harbach’s, prefigured similarly indebted characters in his work (particularly Lost Illusions)—that one could argue that debt, however much it crushes the soul, might also impel it to industry, artistry and (sometimes) brilliance and commercial success. You don’t have to read much of Harbach or his peers, including the aforementioned Gessen, to understand that good, enduring work often arises from the obligation to pay one’s bills.

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