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Book Report: Iowa Baseball Confederacy

So I admit that I got to W.P. Kinsella through the movie Field of Dreams. I saw the movie lo these many, and a few years later caught hold of the book Shoeless Joe and was impressed not only by the book but by the substantial differences between the (very good) book and the (very good) movie. Eventually I sought out more of Mr. Kinsella’s stuff, and found a bunch of very good short stories, particularly the ones set in the baseball world, even more particularly the ones set on the small, baseball-mad country that shares the island with Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Marvelous stuff. I should find a copy of that collection, whichever one it was.

Anyway, I had never got around to Iowa Baseball Confederacy, which is often talked about as being the little sister to Shoeless Joe, a somewhat inferior but still quite good ghost story about baseball, family and loss. Well, that’s crap. Confederacy is a brilliant book, scads better than Joe. Although I must admit I haven’t read Joe in donkey’s, so perhaps what is really going on is that I have grown into Mr. Kinsella’s novels, and that when I get back to Joe, it will be scads better than Confederacy, and then when I get back to Confederacy again, it’ll be scads better than Joe. I hope so. But I doubt it. I think Confederacy is just better. Spookier. More evocative. More dangerous. Bigger.

Joe is, after all, really just a story about one Iowa farmer who lost his father, and his quest to reconnect with him (or his memory). There are bigger themes, sure, and the quest touches our larger cultural senses of loss and acceptance, because it’s a good book, but the story is in the end about one Iowa farmer who lost his father. I don’t think that Confederacy is about one Iowa business man who lost his father, although Gabriel did lose his father, and that loss is again central to the book. The other one of Mr. Kinsella’s Big Themes, about the way the American Indian fits into our (North) American myth is also central, though, and that picks the book up into another tier, I think.

I don’t know, actually, whether many Native Americans (or citizens of First Nations, or what you will) read Mr. Kinsella’s stuff. The handful of Navaho and Apache that I went to school with or worked alongside in summer jobs were not big readers, or if they were, they didn’t communicate that interest to me. Not that I was ever very close to any of them, other than physical proximity, and the sort of impersonal intimacy that timing movements on a factory line seems to have. I have had chatting acquaintance with, as far as I know, only a handful of other tribe members in the years since I started reading Mr. Kinsella’s stuff. I could Google for information, but I’m afraid to discover that his reputation is as a racist, arrogant and offensive appropriator, which would sadden me if I were to learn it from an acquaintance, but irritate me if I were to learn it from the intarwebs. You know.

One last question for Gentle Readers: Are ghost stories generally considered specfic? Confederacy has not just ghosts but time travel, alternate history and elemental battles between gods, so I am happy putting it on the specfic shelf, but as a general rule, is a ghost enough to make something skiffy? I think Inside Job has nothing skiffier than a ghost (well, possession by the spirit of a dead fellah) and it won the Hugo, but then it was by an eight-time Hugo-winner, so that’s different, right? But is Joe, or Field of Dreams, for that matter, specfic or not?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.