Kinsella’s 80th feted with new collection of short stories
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/04/2015 (2739 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
To celebrate the 80th birthday of Alberta-born writer W.P. Kinsella, San Francisco’s Tachyon Publications presents a retrospective collection of 31 short stories that includes some of his finest.
Kinsella is best known for his fanciful 1982 novel Shoeless Joe, which became the Kevin Costner movie Field of Dreams. He went on to publish other novels and short stories about baseball, but is also touted for his satirical yarns about First Nations people, narrated by Silas Ermineskin and featuring the irrepressible Frank Fencepost.
The Essential W.P. Kinsella offers a generous sampling of both the baseball and the Silas stories, as well as a variety of others that show off the author’s versatility.
Any newcomer to his short stories should begin with Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa, which happens to be the last one in this book. Kinsella loses little time in captivating the reader — here’s the third paragraph:
“Two years ago on a spring evening, when the sky was a robin’s-egg blue and the wind as soft as a day-old chick, as I was sitting on the verandah of my farm home in eastern Iowa, a voice very clearly said to me, ‘If you build it, he will come.'”
That statement, made legendary by the movie Field of Dreams, causes the narrator to believe that, if he builds a baseball stadium on his farm — and believes strongly enough in his dream — it will bring his father’s hero, left-fielder Shoeless Joe Jackson, back from the dead.
When this story first appeared in a Canadian anthology called Aurora, a two-line mention of it in a review caught the attention of an American publisher, who approached Kinsella about turning it into a novel. That was all the incentive Kinsella needed to produce what was his first novel, and it quickly earned him an international reputation.
Two other fine baseball stories that mix fun and fantasy are here: How I Got My Nickname, about an amazingly literate New York Giants team, and How Manny Embarquadero Overcame and Began His Climb to the Major Leagues, about a guy who uses a faked inability to speak as a way of becoming noticed and considered for the bigs.
Wavelengths is remarkably moving and a complete change of pace. C.J. and Brody compare their ambitions and views on women as they drive home to the state of Washington after playing minor-league ball in Florida.
In the satirical story The Indian Nation Cultural Exchange Program, narrator Silas tells the reader that the government once sent 52 John Deere manure spreaders to his reserve. “Nobody asked for them, and hardly anybody farm enough to want or need one.” His friend Bedelia says, “‘They should have sent us 52 politicians. They’re all born knowing how to spread manure. It keep them busy and they be doing something useful for the first time in their lives.'”
Kinsella is more serious but no less effective in First Names and Empty Pockets, his fantasy about singer Janis Joplin: “Bracelets splashing lights like diamonds, she high-steps to the microphone and begins her cooing, growling, guttural delivery. She is the spirit of Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, and every gritty, gutsy blues singer who ever wailed.”
Do Not Abandon Me, one of two new stories never before published and also one of only two told from a woman’s point of view, is a cleverly done take on a lovers’ triangle.
In his introduction, Florida professor Rick Wilber sums up what is found in The Essential W.P. Kinsella: “The magic, the compassion, the humour, the power and the sheer brilliance of storytelling.”
Dave Williamson is a Winnipeg novelist who reviewed Shoeless Joe for the Free Press back in 1982.
Updated on Saturday, April 4, 2015 9:15 AM CDT: Formatting.