This post contains affiliate links you can use to purchase the book. If you buy the book using that link, I will receive a small commission from the sale.Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella
Published by RosettaBooks on January 1, 1982
Genres: Fiction, General, Literary
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Ray Kinsella is sitting quietly on the back porch of his Iowa farm one evening when he hears the ghostly voice of a baseball announcer who says to him, “If you build it, he will come.” Needing no further explanation, Kinsella immediately sees in his mind’s eye a baseball field that he is being asked to create in the middle of a corn field. The voice will speak only two other things to Ray: “Ease his pain” and “Go the distance,” and yet the dreaming, idealistic man knows just what he is supposed to do. He knows that digging up the corn field in the back of his house will inspire the return of baseball legend Shoeless Joe Jackson, a man whose reputation was forever tarnished by the scandalous 1919 World Series. So opens the award-winning novel by W.P. Kinsella which was the inspiration for the incredibly popular film Field of Dreams starring Kevin Costner.
W.P. Kinsella has been called a great writer of baseball novels but this title transcends that description. Kinsella doesn’t merely treat baseball as a subject in and of itself; instead, he uses it as a metaphor to discuss larger issues such as innocence, belief, and perhaps above all of these things, America. Shoeless Joe is a parable about one of the most fundamental American ideals: beginning anew.
By plowing up a large section of his farmland, Ray Kinsella is both building and rebuilding, creating what has never been as well as re-creating in a sense what had come before. The land had been a place where past sins could be expunged and a new vision realized. It is exactly this sort of renewal that Kinsella’s quixotic creation brings about. Most importantly, this is a story about renewal and redress of trauma and sins of the past.
Shoeless Joe is #47 on the Sports Illustrated Greatest 100 Sports books.
This weeks United States of Books brings us to Iowa with Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella. Entertainment Weekly says – Not only was this novel – adapted for Field of Dreams – set in Iowa, but Kinsella also attended the state’s other claim to fame: The Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
I went into Shoeless Joe with such hope. I have not seen Field of Dreams, but love uplifting sports movies, so I thought I would love one in book form. But this was no uplifting sports movie, it was a strange tale of a man who builds a baseball field on his failing Iowa corn farm then leaves his wife and small child to kidnap famed writer J.D. Salinger and take him on a road trip. I’m sorry what? Where is my tale of a downtrodden man who has a vision and through that builds his dream on his farm? Instead I get a wacky buddy road trip comedy, complete with carnies and diner hold ups. The action on the farm is limited to the very beginning and the very end, and that is where the heart of the story was. A struggling man trying to save his farm and his family with a dream and pure gumption. Those parts were fantastic, but the rest was just ridiculous.
The plot had its moments, but they were sadly few and far between. The family parts were great, but the whole kidnapping road trip aspect totally lost me. The world created was the same, certain select parts were crisp and vivid, then it veered into crazypants territory. The writing was fine, sentence structure wise, but the story was so over the top I couldn’t really see any fine nuances. The characters were a mashup of amazing and then not, they started strong but then went downhill the more I read. I had no emotional tie to any of the characters. Ray was dismissive of the real world and the potential harm he was bringing to his wife and child.
God what an outfield,” he says. “What a left field.” He looks up at me and I look down at him. “This must be heaven,” he says. “No. It’s Iowa,” I reply automatically.
Shoeless Joe is considered one of the greatest sports books written. I just didn’t see it. Less a book about baseball to me, and more a book about what too much Round-Up in a field will lead to. I do understand the baseball at the heart of the story and how it linked every part together, but failed to see the amazing parts as the random hostage taking of a reclusive writer and a road trip with said writer to pick up baseball ghosts took away from that for me. As did the husband and father endangering the future of his family by leaving them as their farm is about to be foreclosed on. Now, I don’t hate baseball and I know, national sport and all, but this book just didn’t do it for me.
Favorite lines – Pedestrians in the East behave like lemmings rushing dispassionately to their deaths—it takes a good ten minutes to make a left turn into the blinding rush of oncoming traffic, with pedestrians thronging suicidally into the intersections.
Biggest cliché – If you build it, he will come.
Have you read Shoeless Joe, or added it to your TBR?
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Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- The Goodreads Challenge