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Kinsella has written a whimsical novel about baseball (Shoeless Joe) and eight short-story collections about Indians (most were published in Canada). On both subject matters, he showed talent as a practitioner of the well-crafted, if sentimental, story. Here, he tries his hand at mixing the two elements, baseball and Indians, but after a brave start loses all control, doubles the sentimentality, and ends up sounding ridiculous. The few genuinely bright moments of invention occur almost entirely in the opening chapters, as Gideon, a longhaired denizen of Onamata, Iowa, tries to carry on his departed father's lifelong crusade to prove that one July day in 1908 the Chicago Cubs played the Iowa All-Stars in a game that went on for 40 days and nights in a continuous rainstorm. A revisionist hand (God's? The Baseball Commissioner's?) has wiped clean any record of this game, the memory of which was magically transplanted into Gideon's very DNA when his father was killed by a line drive. But after Gideon's wife runs out on him again, he and his semipro pal Stan find themselves actually mapped back in time to the day of that very game, courtesy of an Indian, Drifting Away, whose wife was killed by settlers on the spot of the baseball diamond 300 years before. The game progresses inevitably from a pastoral interlude of wholesome Norman Rockwell dimensions to an inescapable labor of Sisyphus. The explanation for this punishment--which Kinsella links to the white man's extermination of the Indians--comes down to a one-liner by the Indian, Drifting Away: ""Baseball is the one thing the white man has done right."" But before we get to that point, we have to endure slack writing and plot twists (cameo appearances by Teddy Roosevelt and Leonardo da Vinci, who comes in a balloon and claims he invented baseball), as well as the rain itself and the eventual Biblical flood. The end, in which Gideon's country-fed sweetheart is Iowa's first victim of an automobile accident, and then Gideon's real-time wife dies under the wheels of an interstate truck, is mere authorial confetti tossed into the chaos of a fantasy gone amok. Aside from the ebbing energy of Kinsella's prose, there seems to have been almost no attention paid to making this fantasy work out, either logically, or magically. Without that satisfying click of recognition, any story is bound to end in a whimper.

Pub Date: April 7th, 1986
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin