SHOELESS JOE by W. P. Kinsella


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Young, struggling Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella hears a disembodied order to build, among his corn, a baseball field in which the dead and ghostly can redeem themselves--and, though too poor to meet his mortgage payments, Ray is deeply in love with the nectarous myth of baseball: he builds the field. So, sure enough, Shoeless Joe Jackson of 1919 Black-Sox-scandal infamy (""Say it ain't so, Joe!"") appears as a ghost, eventually bringing his dead teammates with him; and together they play night-games under a single stalk of lights while Ray and his wife and daughter (who can all see them) raptly watch from jerry-built outfield bleachers. Furthermore, Ray then hears a summons to ""ease his pain""--and he somehow knows that this refers to writer J. D. Salinger! Thus, Ray drives to New Hampshire for Salinger, abducting the hermit novelist: they head back West, stopping along the way in Minnesota to talk with the ghost of ""Moonlight"" Graham, a 1906 New York Giants player-turned-small-town-doctor; and then Ray brings Salinger home to Iowa so that he too, like Ray, can be a sort of Dorothy, with baseball a benevolent, ghostly, neverending Oz. A sweet, imaginative fantasy--but, unfortunately, one doesn't need to know this first novel's publishing history to recognize it as a short-story that's been fatally overextended. The Peter-Pan-ish theme wears thin, drifting from goodheartedness into simplemindedness; the Salinger-kidnap idea starts as a nice fillip, then becomes a distracting loose end; the only plot-hook--the efforts of agri-businessmen to take Ray's farm and destroy his ballfield--isn't anchored securely. So finally, though winning in its messy, sentimental love-of-baseball and studded with limpid, lovely scenes, the narrative here doesn't hang together as a novel. And Kinsella registers instead as a promising story-writer, with rich potential, perhaps, in the vein of a gentler, more sweet-natured Max Apple.

Pub Date: April 12th, 1982
ISBN: 0395957737
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin