BOX SOCIALS by W.P. Kinsella


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The author of Shoeless Joe (1982), upon which the film Field of Dreams was based, returns with his third novel about baseball. Kinsella sets his story in 1940's Alberta, the Canadian prairie province that closely resembles the Upper Midwest in both its passion for baseball and, at least according to Kinsella, its earthy and colorful citizens. One Truckbox Al McClintock, a mechanic perpetually covered in grease, excites the locals with his ability to hit a baseball out of the park and across the river behind it. People think he might make it in the majors, but how would that be possible for an obscure Canadian? Well, there's a war on, and Edmonton has become a stop-off point for American troops building the Alaska Highway. To keep the troops happy, exhibition baseball is brought in, featuring none other than the great Bob Feller, and through contrived events Truckbox bats against him. There's not much of a story otherwise, unless it's of young Jamie O'Day's coming-of-age; he's the ""hillbilly"" narrator named after James Oliver Curwood. The account of box socials, where young men bid for lunches packed by the mothers of eligible young women, is amusing and recalls the period sweetly. So too do the Ukrainian wedding and the great, farcical game the novel moves toward. And yet the myth Kinsella trades on--that out of a Midwest full of rubes will come a great baseball player--is undercut by his desire at all costs to please, to turn everything into a joke. A kind of condescension to the material results, and McClintock or his sexy sweetheart Louisa May become caricatures. Jokes about the Minnesota weather (""nine months of winter followed by poor sledding"") are getting awfully stale, and Kinsella's stylistic trick of repeating funny adjectives (""genuine"" Cardinals or ""more-or-less-Doreen Beach Sigurdson"") seems forced. Nostalgia and lust are the appeals here, as if Garrison Keillor had gone randy. Bound to be popular--but Kinsella's formula grows thin.

Pub Date: May 30th, 1992
ISBN: 0345382536
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Ballantine