Canadian writer W. P. Kinsella's first novel, Shoeless Joe, published in Boston in 1982, is an ingenious baseball story that smoothly weaves together fact and fantasy. The narrator, Ray Kinsella, is a baseball fanatic and dreamer who owns a farm in Iowa. One day he hears a mysterious voice saying, "If you build it, he will come." Ray believes this is an instruction to build a baseball field at his farm and that the "he" is his father's hero, Shoeless Joe Jackson, one of the greatest baseball players of all time. Jackson was banned from baseball for life following the Black Sox Scandal of 1919, in which he and seven other players accepted bribes to throw the World Series. From this premise, Kinsella spins his tale full of magic and nostalgia. Shoeless Joe shows up, and Ray continues to pursue his dream, even traveling cross-country to kidnap the reclusive writer J. D. Salinger who joins Ray in his quest to restore the broken dreams of the past.
Set in idyllic rural Iowa and told in lyrical, poetic, sometimes sentimental prose, Shoeless Joe is a story of the power of the imagination and the triumph of love. It is about dreams and hope and trust and the fulfillment of long-buried desires. The dominant note throughout is the characters' consuming love of baseball, which is presented almost as a religion, and is contrasted, favorably, with the spiritual dryness of conventional Christianity.
Shoeless Joe was made into the popular movie Field of Dreams in 1989, and for a while the words "If you build it, he will come" became almost as well-known in American popular culture as the famous phrase "Say it ain't so, Joe," allegedly spoken by a young fan to Shoeless Joe during the Black Sox Scandal.