"The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past. It reminds of us of all that once was good and could be again."
Those words --- spoken so resonantly by James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams --- are perhaps the best and most concise evocation of the mythic power of baseball. Readers who would like a richer, more thorough explication of this theme are strongly urged to pick up Michael Chabon's new book, SUMMERLAND, at their earliest convenience. (For the True Believers of the Great Game, this will likely be the day after the last game of the World Series.) Chabon here follows his great, Pulitzer-winning book THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER AND CLAY with another amazing adventure. SUMMERLAND is all the more amazing because it pulls off the difficult feat of being equally accessible to younger and older readers alike.
SUMMERLAND begins where most baseball stories begin, and where many of them end --- the Little League field. We are introduced to Ethan Feld, age eleven, reserve right fielder on the Ruth's Fluff-N-Fold Roosters, stuck in the second division of the Mustang League on Clam Island, Washington. Ethan is as glum as the overcast Pacific Northwest skies, depressed over his team's record and his own inadequate skills in the field and at the plate. He is about ready to quit the team --- and break his poor father's heart in the process --- when he is summoned from the dugout and told to prepare for a great adventure.
The adventure that follows is sprawling enough and colorful enough that it ought not to be summarized in one paragraph of a book review. SUMMERLAND is a vast, extravagant tale, combining the mythic nature of baseball with mythic elements from Norse and Native American culture. The combination of deft storytelling and creative dash will delight younger audiences and intrigue older readers.
If SUMMERLAND were nothing more than a collection of tales featuring a dizzying array of mythological characters barnstorming their way through a land of eternal summertime, it would still be a good and honorable piece of work. But it is more consequential than that, looking past adventure and fun to deeper themes of love and loss and reconciliation. The villain in SUMMERLAND is Coyote, the trickster in both Native American and Norse mythology, and his goal is to end existence as we know it. To this end, he recruits Ethan's father, a dirigible engineer, and brings him on a parallel journey through the Winterlands, braving ice and snow and angry, hungry frost-giants while constructing the material that will cause the end of the world.
The great theme of SUMMERLAND is reconciliation; fathers with sons, worlds with neighboring worlds, pitchers with catchers. And most importantly, it reconciles the world of children's literature with the world of literary fiction, creating a work that anyone can enjoy and that anyone who is a true lover of baseball will cherish.