Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Book Review://Shoeless Joe by WP Kinsella

My grandfather has multiple sclerosis. He's had it for as long as I've been alive. I am the first grandchild, I am the first of a generation who has only known him as a diagnosis.

I hear stories all the time about how funny he was and what a party animal he was. I didn't get to see any of the adventures of "Larry the Lech."

I spent an entire childhood surrounded by good natured family members giving my grandmother looks of pity. Whispers everywhere.

As I grow older I realize that he isn't a disease he is a man. So I wasn't there for the wild parties, I do get to be around his sense of humor and he's eternal optimism. He's had the disease for close to forty years, a decade longer than any doctor gave him. He smiles all the time and until recently was still begging me to take him to Vegas and some girly shows.

The man is crippled and my grandmother still gets pissed at him for being too much of a flirt.

An anecdote on how he turns everything positive: He almost got arrested for shoplifting twenty years ago. His excuse? "Who's going to finger the guy in the wheelchair?"

My grandfather isn't doing so good anymore. For the last few years we've all seen the progression. Something however keeps him bright eyed and optimistic. Some force, some magical hand guides him to blue skies and sunsets.

That magic is baseball.

As an American boy or girl, no matter your socioeconomic status, baseball exists. Somehow someway it gets on your radar and is always there. When I was younger I hated sports. Wouldn't play them or follow them.

However, I knew who Babe Ruth was. Gehrig, DiMaggio, Lasorda, Pete Rose, Marge Schott all fought for space in my brain against Lincoln, Washington, Revere, Jefferson.

Some names transcend the sports page and become part of the weave of America itself.

My grandfather believes in the Boys of Summer. The worst of his illness always comes after the world series and his eyes and thoughts are never sharper than on opening day.

For him I started to watch baseball as a teenager and pay attention at least to the pennant races. Which because we live in Southern California meant my grandfather and I had to live and die with the Dodgers.

Baseball has changed over the years. Night games, Designated Hitters, In Field Flies, Humongous Salaries, and Steroids. Purists believe that the game has been perverted, strayed from the course. Threads loosened from the fabric of baseball and America.

For very few however, there is still a magic. My grandfather fights the battle inside his neurons everyday so that he can see the Dodgers win it all someday. There is a calm and healing wave from the crack of the bats and slap of the gloves.

At the beginning of every season I look forward to watching games and following the sport. By the third week, I'm bored of baseball again. In all fairness I am a football fan and baseball is way to slow.

To get excited about the season around March or April I pick up any book written by WP Kinsella.

Kinsella's voice is the voice of time. His narrative flow is a direct link to the glory days of Tinkers to Evers to Chance right to Manny Ramirez's 50 game suspension for steroids.

I am in love with his style.

Kinsella consistently makes you smile when reading a particular phrasing or description. He writes with the same magic that makes baseball so very important.

Shoeless Joe or as you probably know it, Field of Dreams is a novel based on the short story "Shoeless Joe Jackson comes to Iowa."

It is a love story. A romance. A story of fulfillment.

Ray Kinsella, the protagonist, is in love with three things: His wife, Baseball, and Iowa. Each are mysteries to Ray. Gordian Knot's of puzzles, hope, and heartbeats.

We all know the basic plot of the book/film so I won't bore you with a recant. However, if you've never heard of the book, James Earl Jones' character is actually JD Salinger in the book. The actual guy not someone based on him.

The book was written in the eighties about a survivor of the sixties who is in love with a baseball legend from the twenties. Yet every word, description and anecdote is as timeless as a double play.

The book is written it what appears to be broad strokes. Sentence to sentence you are being moved along the life of Ray Kinsella. I think the first paragraph covers over three years of Ray's life. However, when you look closer tiny little details pop up every time I read the book.

So I read it around this time every year. Every year I make the same pledge: Watch more baseball and call my father.

But mostly to remain another witness to the ever steady connection of baseball.

This isn't so much as a review as a chance to write about how a simple book could wrap it's arms around me and give me faith. Faith in baseball, faith in hope, faith in themagic.

As a grandson of a man dying of MS this book and the great god baseball helps me to realize how a man with MS lives with a smile on his face and the smell of the grass in his nose.

No comments: