Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella

Title: Shoeless Joe
Author: W. P. Kinsella
Publisher: Ballantine Books (1987)

Michael has a knack for introducing me to titles I would otherwise never have come by. In this instance, I didn't realize the movie Field of Dreams was based on a novel. When he suggested we do this pairing I was pretty stoked because I really like baseball and I'm always interested in baseball titles. Also, I haven't watched that crazy ole Ray plow his corn because of the voices he hears in quite a long time. I may sound flip but, don't worry, I have a special place in my heart for Field of Dreams and even if I make fun of it a little I still like it (excepting a small part of it that you may be able to figure out if you read to the end of this review) but those comments are for Michael's film review. For anyone new to the this series, this is where we choose a book/movie pairing and I say a few words on the book and Michael says a few words on the movie.

Click here for Michael's film review of Field of Dreams
at It Rains... You Get Wet

For this month Michael and I have queued up another fantasy novel. In fact, I'd say this was urban fantasy before it was all the rage... minus the vampires, of course. Turns out, I have as little interest in 80s urban fantasy as I do in 00s urban fantasy. And if that's not a clue, let me assure you, if you like this book you will not like this review.

Here's a quick synopsis that I found on the back of the copy I read: "'If you build it, he will come.' The mysterious words of a baseball announcer lead Ray Kinsella to carve a baseball field in his cornfield in honor of his hero, the baseball player Shoeless Joe Jackson."

What works:
- The building of the field piecemeal. It's probably unfair of me to count this as it only occurred to me to notice because it's different from the movie. But, whatever, I have so few good things to say about the book I may as well take what I can get. Ray starts by only building left field so that Shoeless Joe will have a place to play. It's Shoeless Joe informing him that more will come if Ray will only build their positions that inspires him to continue. I loved the building of the field. I liked all the descriptions of how he kept up the grass and the dirt and I liked the rickety back fence and the bleachers. I liked how building a new portion of the park was rewarded with another player.

- Random little gems are scattered throughout the book. If you could skip everything but the building of the field, the recounting of baseball statistics and some of the random quotes this could have been a really good book.

- Unexpected conversations can happen at work. I'm getting up from reading my book at break and someone who has never spoken to me before says, "That looks like a funny book." I am silent while I process why this person is talking to me and what would have given her the idea that it was funny (see pic above, not really a comedy cover if you ask me). My stalling leaves her space to continue, "Is it really about people without any shoes?" I am still having trouble processing this conversation because now I've moved on to why a book full of people without shoes would be funny! I finally figure it's best to just get out asap so I mumble something about Shoeless Joe Jackson being a famous baseball player and exit the room. 

What Doesn't:
- The characterization. Oh my gosh!!! The characterization. It's some of the worst I've ever seen. I started to wonder why anyone had a name at all. I think their names should have been Convenient Person #1, #2, etc. Ray gets some semblance of characterization but he's not a very consistent character so the only thing I really could believe about him was that he loved Annie* and baseball.

- *Let's not go down the road of talking about Annie or Annie and Ray. A more insulting, insipid love affair has surely never been put to page before.

- The farm foreclosure angle. It made no sense. What was the point of them being poor? Was it for a better ending? To make it even more amazing that Ray had the faith to build the field? What was Annie's job? Why would she insist that she and her husband buy a farm when she had no plans to help with the farming or a supplemental income? If this whole foreclosure business hinges on her brother's company being full of assholes who have been buying up Johnson County then why didn't they buy the farm in the first place? If you double check the timeline (and I did!) the company could have bought the farm before Annie and Ray ever got involved.

- The twin angle. What was the point of Richard's character? Why was the author convinced twins wouldn't age differently? Why were the twins nothing alike in one description of them (personality-wise) but then Ray's complaining he never had anything Richard didn't? 

Overall: The snippets of baseball in this story do not make the horror show that is this book worth it.

One last thing. I didn't include this in the "what doesn't" section because it works for quite a few people, just not me. This book has a real hankering for the past aspect to it. I mean, even moreso than you would generally assume from the plot. It's basically got the attitude that anything old = good and anything new = bad. This is neat and all for some folks but, when you really look at such a thing, it ends up being short-sighted and exclusionary and not something that has ever had much appeal for me.

So, toss this book on the Not To Be Read pile and head over to the film review.

Oh wait, my favorite quote:

"He's a go-getter, but he'll get over it soon. Everyone does."

rating: 2 of 5 stars

Click here for an index of the joint post series


  1. Fine look at the novel, Rachel. Let's see...
    - I'd agree that the field, and its building, is a wonderful part of the novel
    - baseball history and the look at the game tactics and strategy is a great
    - Shoeless Joe as a character
    - dialogue and the language of metaphor
    - twin brother (so glad this was left off of film adaptation)
    - history missed (African-American ballplayers got little attention; again the film seemed to make up for that aspect)
    - the father-son(s) reunion was underwhelming and played too early in the third act (film got it just right)

    I'm definitely not as hard as you on the novel with regard to Annie or the foreclosure aspects. I enjoyed it for the writer's use of metaphor and descriptive language. The idea and story was pretty original IMO. Interesting they changed J.D. Salinger to Terrence Mann, but then again JDS was still alive when this came out.

    So glad to hear some of my picks can get a reaction from you, Rachel.;-) I really enjoyed finally reading this novel (been gathering a ton of dust in my TBR stack). Thanks, Rachel.

  2. What timing! I was just over commenting on your post. :)

    Oh yes, this certainly got a reaction from me. Would you believe I worked really hard to make this review as tame as it was??? (Again, I am such a stinker!)

    I loved that you made your own works/didn't list. That is awesome. I agree about the A-A history being so poorly dealt with (or not all) in the novel.

    Salinger would not allow the movie makers to use his name as I understand it. Mann had to be made up as a replacement.

    Shoeless Joe was a great character. It's a shame we didn't see more of him.

    Thanks again for the suggestion!

  3. "But, whatever, I have so few good things to say about the book I may as well take what I can get"

    Ha! I so get what you're saying! I sometimes feel exactly like that when I've gotten myself roped into "officially" reviewing a book I'm just not feeling.

    Didn't see this movie, baseball is one of those sports I just don't get. Notice I say that as though there are a whole of bunch of others that I DO get.

  4. It is so very difficult to review something that you have already dismissed in your mind. I'm actually thinking of getting out of reviews - not the ones here on sgwordy that I do for funsies but the more official reviews that I do. I think I've lost the patience for it. I hate having to finish books I don't want to finish.

    Big lol to your sports comment. :) You don't need to know anything about baseball to enjoy Field of Dreams (or not enjoy it if you go in the other direction). Baseball is the center point of the film but not the thing that makes you like it. I say give it a try sometime.