Wednesday, 25 March 2015

The Essential W. P. Kinsella by W.P. Kinsella

This career retrospective celebrates the 80th birthday of baseball’s greatest scribe, W. P. Kinsella (Shoeless Joe), as well as the 25th anniversary of Field of Dreams, the film that he inspired.

In addition to his classic baseball tales, W. P. Kinsella is also a critically-acclaimed short fiction writer. His satiric wit has been celebrated with numerous honors, including the Order of British Columbia.

Here are his notorious First Nation narratives of indigenous Canadians, and a literary homage to J. D. Salinger. Alongside the “real” story of the 1951 Giants and the afterlife of Roberto Clemente, are the legends of a pirated radio station and a hockey game rigged by tribal magic.

Eclectic, dark, and comedic by turns, The Essential W. P. Kinsella is a living tribute to an extraordinary raconteur.

Goodreads description 

Last January I reviewed W.P. Kinsella's last novel Butterfly Winter. Now Kinsella's publishers have produced this collection of his finest short stories. Kinsella will always be best known for his baseball magic-realist novel Shoeless Joe, which became the film Field of Dreams. But this collection shows that his work is more diverse than his famous opus would suggest. 

There are a number of magic-realist baseball stories including the story that started it all, Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa. Although I know nothing about baseball I really enjoyed Kinsella's stories, which are less about a sport than about questioning the human condition or exploring concepts. 

Searching for January takes the real disappearance of baseball star Roberto Clemente in an aircraft accident and explores concepts of time.  And the story The Night Manny Mota Tied the Record is actually about a man being offered the chance to save a great sportsman's life by sacrificing his own.  
"There is magic," Mr. Revere says. "It is close by. I can tell when someone feels it."
"It is the game," I say. "Not you."
"We all have to claim some game as magic," he says.

Alongside these clearly magic-realist baseball stories you will find a number of more realistic Canadian First Nation stories set on the Hobbema Indian Reservation. I had not come across these stories before, which poke fun at the Canadian authorities' and white population's attitude to the First Nations. I was firmly on the side of the narrator, the young Cree Silas Ermineskin, and his mates chuckling at their exploits and wry comments.
"Even crime wouldn't pay if the Government ran it," say our medicine lady, Mad Etta. The larger than life Mad Etta is a particularly wonderful creation. Despite the humour of these First Nation stories they also make the reader think about serious issues facing the inhabitants of the reservation. 

In addition to the baseball and Hobbema Indian stories, the collection includes a number of standalone stories. I particularly enjoyed two very different stories about mature men falling in love. Lieberman in Love is an unusual take on a man's relationship with a prostitute and The Last Surviving Member of the Japanese Victory Society is a story about intercultural love in face of opposition from the woman's mother. The latter story is probably my favourite in the collection and has such an emotional honesty about it that I was not surprised to read the author's moving dedication to his deceased wife at its end. 

I recommend this book to anyone who wants to read a master of the short story form.

I received this book free from the publisher via Netgalley in return for a fair review.

No comments: