Friday, September 15, 2017

FFB: The Iowa Baseball Confederacy -- W. P. Kinsella

Once upon a time (1999) I was a guest at Angelo State University's Writers Conference in Honor of Elmer Kelton, an annual event that's been going on for more than 20 years now.  The featured guest that year was W. P. Kinsella.  The interesting thing about the conference was that they put us guests up in a dormitory, and my room was right next to Kinsella's.  I'd like to say that we had a long chat and became best pals, but that would be Wrong.  That would be A Lie.  He'd forgotten to bring soap, however, so I was able to give him a bar.  (Judy never traveled without a few spare bars of soap.)  And I did buy a copy of The Iowa Baseball Confederacy, which he signed for me at his autographing session.  My shameful confession is that I'm just now getting around to reading it.  I like Kinsella's writing, so I don't know why it took me so long.

The book was sold as a mainstream novel, naturally, but it's actually an SF novel, with a whole bunch of magical realism thrown in.  After being struck by lightning, Matthew Clarke is filled with the knowledge of the Iowa Baseball Confederacy, which nobody else in the world has ever heard of.  Or at least no one will admit it.  Matthew spends the rest of his life (cut short when he's killed by a line drive) searching for evidence of the Confederacy's existence and trying to convince others of it.  At the moment of his death, the knowledge is transferred to his son, Gideon, and he's obsessed just as his father was.  They both believe that there are little cracks in time that might allow a person to slip through into an alternative universe and another time.  Eventually Gideon and his friend Stan manage to slip through one of those cracks, and in an alternative 1908 (or maybe it's our 1908 but nobody remembers it) they discover that the Confederacy is real.  And they get involved in one of the longest games in baseball history, 2014 innings, played out mostly in the rain over a period of forty days, between the Confederacy All Stars and the Chicago Cubs.

It's an odd game to say the least and not just because of the rain and its length.  See that balloon on the cover?  In the gondola is Leonardo da Vinci, who pays a visit and claims to have invented the game of baseball.  See that ghostly Native America?  That's a ghost, all right, and his name is Drifting Away.  He has shamanic powers, and he's in control of the game, sort of, because his wife was killed on the spot where the diamond is.

There's so much more going on that I won't bother to summarize it.  There's so much, in fact, that at times I thought Kinsella was losing control of the narrative.  But as I said above, I like his writing, and I kept right on going to the end.  If there's a moral here, I think it must be, to quote those great philosophers Jagger and Richards, "You can't always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need." When he's writing about baseball, Kinsella's hard to beat, and if you like the game, you'd probably like this book.

7 comments:

George said...

I read The Iowa Baseball Confederacy years ago and I remember liking it (even though I'm not a big baseball fan). And, I am amazed at the winning streak the Cleveland Indians have put together. Historic!

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

Stop reviewing these books that I am going to want to read, OK? How about a knitting book?

I am a baseball fan (we're talking 60 years, whippersnappers) and, of course, I remember his earlier SHOELESS JOE (the basis for FIELD OF DREAMS).

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

But did you know this, because I sure didn't:

W. P. Kinsella was involved in a car accident in 1997 which almost resulted in the end of his fiction writing career. He was struck by a car while out walking and suffered a head injury when he hit the ground. He would not publish another novel for 14 years.
In a 1999 interview with the University of Regina's student newspaper, Kinsella explained that he could no longer write as he lost his ability to concentrate. The injury also robbed him of his senses of taste and smell. Kinsella said he went from being a Type A personality to Type B. After the accident, he didn't feel like doing the things he had done in his normal routine and didn't care. He did write book reviews to keep his name before the public.


Rick Robinson said...

I liked this a lot when I read it, though I couldn't say when that was, but the book had that cover (in case there were other editions with other covers). I liked everything by Kinsella I read.

Mathew Paust said...

I'm with Jeffrey. (I hope this is on Kindle) Kinsella's accident sounds similar to Stephen King's. Didn't seem to slow King down, tho.

Mathew Paust said...

Alas, there is no Kindle version, but in searching for one I remembered Con Chapman's CannaCorn, a hilarious spoof of the game, which I read years ago and can't find my review anywhere. So I'm reading it again for FFB. If you love baseball, you'll LYAO at CannCorn. https://www.amazon.com/CannaCorn-Con-Chapman-ebook/dp/B004JU21TK/ref=sr_1_44?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1505497589&sr=1-44&keywords=con+chapman

Todd Mason said...

The baseball fiction magazine ELYSIAN FIELDS QUARTERLY was very happy to have some Kinsella to publish a decade or so back, as was the Canadian speculative fiction magazine ON SPEC. And, strangely, getting somewhat wrapped up in the hard times Michael Shaara had in his last two decades, including a motorcycle accident that impeded his writing career even more than bad luck and timing had previously, kept me from finishing the reread of his baseball novella for this week.

Clearly, given Paul Williams, Kinsella and Shaara, and Richard Farina and not a few others, we have to keep our writers off and out of conveyances. And the surreal baseball novel, what with Robert Coover, Bernard Malamud and all (I suppose we can mention the overrated T. C. Boyle as well) certainly has a place in the literature...