W. P. Kinsella 1935-
(Full name William Patrick Kinsella) Canadian short story writer, editor, and novelist.
The following entry presents an overview of Kinsella's career through 2001.
Kinsella has earned critical acclaim for his short story collections focusing on modern-day Canadian Indians and for his novels and short stories about baseball. Several of his works—including Dance Me Outside (1977) and The Moccasin Telegraph (1984)—attempt to debunk stereotypes and distortions of the North American Indian by portraying contemporary Native Americans struggling to survive in caucasian societies. In the novels Shoeless Joe (1982) and The Iowa Baseball Confederacy (1986) and the short story collection The Thrill of the Grass (1984), Kinsella uses the game of baseball as his primary metaphor, focusing less on the onfield exploits of his characters than on the magical and rejuvenating force that the sport provides for its followers. Kinsella's skill at blending fantasy with realism in a poetically whimsical style has been noted by many critics and has prompted comparisons to American humorist Richard Brautigan.
Kinsella was born in Alberta, Canada, on May 25, 1935, to John Matthew, a contractor, and Olive Mary, a printer. Kinsella's father was a semi-professional baseball player who instilled in his son a love for the game at an early age. Before beginning his career in writing, Kinsella worked at a variety of jobs such as claims investigator, government clerk, and restaurant owner. At the age of thirty-five, he returned to school and received a B.A. in creative writing from the University of Victoria in 1974. In 1976 he was accepted into the Iowa Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa and received his M.F.A. from the university in 1978. He taught at the University of Iowa from 1976 to 1978 and later taught creative writing and English at the University of Calgary from 1978 to 1983. After the success of his first novel, Shoeless Joe, Kinsella left teaching to pursue a full-time writing career. He won the Books in Canada Award for first novels, the Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship, and the Canadian Authors Association Prize for Shoeless Joe. He has also been awarded the Writers Guild of Alberta O'Hagan novel medal for The Moccasin Telegraph, the Alberta Achievement Award for Excellence in Literature and the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humor for The Fencepost Chronicles (1986), and the 1987 Author of the Year Award from the Canadian Booksellers Association. Shoeless Joe was adapted for the screen in the 1989 film Field of Dreams, which was nominated for best picture, best score, and best adapted screenplay awards from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Beginning with Dance Me Outside, Kinsella has used Silas Ermineskin, a droll, self-conscious young Cree Indian from Hobbema, Alberta, whose broken English is rich in metaphor and imagery to narrate his series of short story collections focusing on Native Americans, The stories in Dance Me Outside portray the various ways in which Native Americans are conditioned to expect and resign themselves to victimization. The grimness of the subject matter is often lightened by the humorous dissimilarities of caucasian and Native-American lifestyles and worldviews. The Moccasin Telegraph depicts a Native-American community attempting to reconcile their traditional customs with contemporary technological innovations and bureaucratic legislation. Without putting inordinate worth on ancient Native-American culture, Kinsella extols the remnants of native wisdom that have survived in modern North America. In The Fencepost Chronicles Silas Ermineskin returns as a narrator, but the main character in the stories is his comical friend, Fencepost Frank. Silas, now a published writer, and Frank are travelling across Canada to cover the Pope's visit with the Native Americans in the Northwest Territory. Brother Frank's Gospel Hour and Other Stories (1994) continues the Ermineskin series, focusing on the evolving relationship between Silas and Frank. The stories range in tone from light-hearted—“Bull” revolves around an artificial insemination case in the Alberta Supreme Court—to serious—“Rain Birds” examines the results of corporate farming on the environment and “Dream Catcher” explores the reality of child abuse. The title story “Brother Frank's Gospel Hour” follows a staid evangelical gospel show that is disrupted by the colorful residents of Hobbema.
Aside from his works that focus on Native Americans, the dominant motif in the rest of Kinsella's oeuvre is the game of baseball. The novel Shoeless Joe, based on the title story in Kinsella's short story collection Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa (1980), is a comic fantasy about an Iowa farmer named Ray Kinsella who builds a baseball diamond in his cornfield in hopes of bringing back to life the late baseball star Shoeless Joe Jackson. Ray then kidnaps renowned author—and baseball fan—J. D. Salinger and gathers by supernatural methods an assortment of deceased baseball figures, including his late father, so they can redeem their lives on the playing field. Through a childlike optimism, Ray succeeds in reviving the spirits of all he attracts to the ballpark. The Thrill of the Grass employs realism in half of its stories and fantasy in the others. The realistic pieces chronicle the monotonous, dreary lives of minor-league baseball players waiting for their big break and their relationships with wives and girlfriends who are insensitive to their aspirations. The book's central theme focuses on the loss of youthful expectations and innocence and the disparities between dreams and reality. While most of the stories contain ultimately pessimistic overtones, the use of absurd humor and memorable minor characters lightens their mood. The Iowa Baseball Confederacy again utilizes baseball—this time a game between the all-stars of the mythical Iowa Baseball Confederacy and the 1908 Chicago Cubs—as a sanctuary in which people can sustain their youthful ideals. Kinsella tampers with time and combines realism and fantasy to create a world in which a ballgame lasts forty days in a continual rain. The Dixon Cornbelt League, and Other Baseball Stories (1993) uses mysticism and conflict to explore the humanistic nature of baseball players. Supernatural events permeate many of the stories, including “The Baseball Wolf” where a shortstop transforms into a wolf in an attempt to revive his fading career. In “The Fadeaway” deceased pitcher Christy Mathewson continues to relay pitching tips to his teammates on the Cleveland Indians through a dugout phone. Kinsella continues his use of baseball as central metaphor in the novel Magic Time (1998) and the short story collection Japanese Baseball and Other Stories (2000), which examines the lives of baseball players in Japan, where the game has become increasingly popular. He has also published several additional novels and short story collections, including Box Socials (1992) and The Alligator Report (1985), which consists of a collection of fanciful, surreal vignettes—named “Brautigans” after author Richard Brautigan—involving unexplainable events that occur in a run-down city neighborhood inhabited by alienated people.
Although Canadian by birth, most reviewers have categorized Kinsella as a North American writer, rather than a regional writer, due to his recurring fascination with the distinctively American pastime of baseball. While many critics have commended Kinsella's use of baseball as a metaphor for larger, spiritual themes, others have argued that he has overused the sport, noting that his later books often read like a rehashing of his previous works. Reviewers have also noted the recurring elements of nostalgia and magic realism in Kinsella's baseball books, with some finding such passages to be overly mawkish and optimistic. C. Kenneth Pellow has commented that “Shoeless Joe is about as sentimental a work as one should want to find. Indeed, it occasionally veers to the downright saccharine. Still, it maintains, throughout, a synchronizing of fantasy and realism that makes the sentiment palatable and causes one to appreciate the novel's serious artistry.” Most critics have praised Kinsella's regular use of humor in his novels and short stories, asserting that his comic observations often reveal profound truths about his characters and their environments. Don Murray has stated that, “Kinsella is a wit … in that he can perform his magic in ‘alternate universes’ as adroitly as other contemporary authors and he is in tune with the modernism of multiple time schemes and their comic possibilities.” There has been considerable critical debate surrounding Kinsella's portrayal of Native Americans in his works. Several reviewers have criticized Kinsella's attempts at writing Native-American narratives, arguing that, as a caucasian, Kinsella could never fully understand or competently portray Native-American culture. A number of critics have also faulted Kinsella for indulging in Native-American stereotypes. Gerald Vizenor, a noted writer of Chippewa ancestry, has argued that, “[Kinsella's] characters are cornered in racialism and limited in humanness; they act stupid most of the time and speak in a mock patois that is not tribal.” However, other commentators have faulted Kinsella's Native-American works—particularly Born Indian (1981)—for being blatantly unjust to caucasians and overly sympathetic towards Native Americans.
Dance Me Outside (short stories) 1977; also published as Dance Me Outside: More Tales from the Ermineskin Reserve 1986
Scars: Stories (short stories) 1978
Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa (short stories) 1980
Born Indian (short stories) 1981
*Shoeless Joe (novel) 1982
The Moccasin Telegraph (short stories) 1984; also published as The Moccasin Telegraph and Other Tales 1985
The Thrill of the Grass (short stories) 1984
The Alligator Report (short stories) 1985
The Fencepost Chronicles (short stories) 1986
The Iowa Baseball Confederacy (novel) 1986
Red Wolf, Red Wolf (short stories) 1987
The Further Adventures of Slugger McBatt: Baseball Stories by W. P. Kinsella (short stories) 1988; reprinted as Go the Distance, 1995
Box Socials (novel) 1992
The Dixon Cornbelt League, and Other Baseball Stories (short stories) 1993
Brother Frank's Gospel Hour and Other Stories (short stories) 1994
The Winter Helen Dropped By (novel) 1995
Magic Time (novel) 1998
Japanese Baseball and Other Stories (short stories) 2000
Baseball Fantastic [editor and contributor] (short stories) 2001
*Based on the title story from Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa.
SOURCE: Grady, Wayne. “From Majors to Miners, by Way of Left Field.” Books in Canada 9-10 (1980-1981): 8-9.
[In the following review, Grady discusses the true story of “Shoeless Joe” Jackson and compares Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa to Sheldon Currie's Glace Bay Miner's Museum.]
For the record, Joseph Jefferson (“Shoeless Joe”) Jackson probably never saw Iowa, let alone played baseball there. There was an Iowa and South Dakota League for two years (1902-03), with teams in LeMars, Sheldon, Rock Rapids, and Sioux City. But Shoeless Joe was born in South Carolina in 1887 and played his Class D ball in the Carolina and Southern Associations...
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SOURCE: Friis-Baastad, Erling. “Red and White and Bleak All Over.” Books in Canada 10 (October 1981): 15-16.
[In the following excerpt, Friis-Baastad praises the tales in Born Indian, noting that “these stories will move you as only the best products of the art of storytelling can.”]
In his previous short-story collections, Dance Me Outside and Scars, Kinsella introduced his narrator, Silas Ermineskin, and the Indians of a reserve near Hobbema, Alta. In Born Indian he continues to chronicle their misadventures. The cover blurb calls our attention to the great sense of humour that runs through these stories. The publisher certainly...
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SOURCE: Cheuse, Alan. “An Outsider's Homage to Baseball Lore.” Los Angeles Times (23 May 1982): 12.
[In the following review, Cheuse provides a positive assessment of Shoeless Joe, praising the “world of compelling whimsy” that Kinsella created in the novel.]
It was probably only a matter of time, one says with perfect hindsight, before the formation of the Canadian professional baseball franchises led to the appearance of a Canadian novelist with a penchant for writing about the peculiarly North American sport. So on the mound this spring we find W. P. Kinsella, formerly a short-story writer from Calgary in the Canadian leagues, pitching at us an...
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SOURCE: Lewis, Maggie. “A Fantasy for Baseball Lovers.” Christian Science Monitor (9 July 1982): 14.
[In the following review, Lewis argues that, despite some “mawkish” passages, Shoeless Joe is a poetic and emotionally satisfying novel.]
To say W. P. Kinsella's Shoeless Joe is a book about resurrection and baseball makes it sound foreboding and silly, and sometimes it is, but that doesn't matter at all.
Shoeless Joe is a fantasy about an Iowa farmer who gets a message to build a baseball diamond, so that Shoeless Joe Jackson, a legendary baseball star who was banned from the game for alleged complicity in throwing...
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SOURCE: Choyce, Lesley. “Three Hits and a Miss.” Books in Canada 13 (November 1984): 23.
[In the following excerpt, Choice compliments Kinsella's prose in The Thrill of the Grass, noting that the collection is both surprising and engrossing.]
W. P. Kinsella's Shoeless Joe performed one of the rarest accomplishments in my reading history: it successfully sucked me into one man's private modern vision of ecstasy, and that vision wrapped itself like soft calf leather around the sport of baseball. The Thrill of the Grass promised to do it all over again, this time with 11 short stories, each knitting a revised vision of the universe as potential...
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SOURCE: Kinsella, W. P., and Don Murray. “Prairie Indians and Peregrine Indians: An Interview with W. P. Kinsella.” Wascana Review 20, no. 1 (1985): 93-101.
[In the following interview, Kinsella discusses his depictions of Canadian Indians, his use of humor, and the preliminary plans for the film adaptation of Shoeless Joe.]
The writer W. P. Kinsella, who won a Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship award and other prizes for his novel Shoeless Joe (1982), has written numerous volumes of short stories: Dance Me Outside (1977), Scars (1978), Born Indian (1981), Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa (1980), The Moccasin Telegraph and...
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SOURCE: Kahn, Roger. Review of The Iowa Baseball Confederacy, by W. P. Kinsella. Los Angeles Times Book Review (6 July 1986): 1, 7.
[In the following review, Kahn examines the plot structure and prose of The Iowa Baseball Confederacy.]
The centerpiece in W. P. Kinsella's intriguing and sometimes perplexing new novel [The Iowa Baseball Confederacy] is a baseball game between the world champion Chicago Cubs and a band of amateur all-stars that begins either on July 4, 1908, or in a crack in time. The game lasts 2,614 innings and was scheduled as the start of an exhibition double-header. The 2,614-inning figure is correct. The second game of the...
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SOURCE: Wallach, Jeffrey. “Game without Limits.” American Book Review (March 1987): 8.
[In the following review, Wallach discusses the similarities and differences between The Iowa Baseball Confederacy and Morry Frank's Every Young Man's Dream.]
Name me a more perfect game! Name me a game with more possibilities for magic, wizardry, voodoo, hoodoo, enchantment, obsession, possession. There's always time for daydreaming, time to create your own illusions at the ballpark. I bet there isn't a magician anywhere who doesn't love baseball.
—W. P. Kinsella, The Iowa Baseball Confederacy
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SOURCE: Randall, Neil. “Shoeless Joe: Fantasy and the Humor of Fellow-Feeling.” Modern Fiction Studies 33, no. 1 (spring 1987): 173-82.
[In the following essay, Randall draws comparisons between the ways that Kinsella and authors Thomas Carlyle and J. R. R. Tolkien approach humor in their works.]
In his essay on Jean Paul Friedrich Richter, Thomas Carlyle writes of a humor that manifests itself in smile rather than laughter. “Richter is a man of mirth,” says Carlyle, whose humor is “capricious … quaint … [and] heartfelt” (15). The three adjectives represent for Carlyle the essence of what he terms “true humor” because they suggest Richter's...
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SOURCE: Murray, Don. “A Note on W. P. Kinsella's Humor.” International Fiction Review 14, no. 2 (1987): 98-9.
[In the following review, Murray asserts that humor is one of the dominant motifs in Kinsella's body of work.]
The Canadian author W. P. Kinsella has published two novels and over one hundred short stories, anecdotes, and brief “surreal” sketches (which he calls Brautigans after the late American humorist) since he first began to publish fiction in the mid-1970s.1 Kinsella revitalizes old images and situations (the joy of playing together, the chill of isolation), blends romantic fantasy with baseball humor, and brings people out of the cold...
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SOURCE: Vizenor, Gerald. “Playing Indian for the White Man.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (20 December 1987): 11.
[In the following review, Native-American author Vizenor criticizes Kinsella's portrayals of Canadian Indians, stating that “humor is no excuse to exploit negative preconceptions about tribal people.”]
Silas Ermineskin, the narrator in this collection of stories, was hired to write about the Pope's visit with tribal people in the Northwest Territories. Silas is not pleased when he learns that he and his friend must sleep in a tent with other reporters.
“I mean knowing about the outdoors don't come naturally to Indians. … We...
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SOURCE: Murray, Don. “Wandering Ermineskins: Kinsella's Prairie Indians Are Now Peregrine Indians.” Essays on Canadian Writing (spring 1989): 132-36.
[In the following review, Murray evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of the short stories in The Fencepost Chronicles.]
The Fencepost Chronicles is the fifth of Kinsella's Indian books (Dance Me Outside, 1977; Scars, 1978; Born Indian, 1981; The Moccasin Telegraph, 1983) and the first in which the author keeps his long-standing promise to take Silas Ermineskin (the Cree storyteller), Frank Fencepost, and their friends far from the Hobbema Reserve (though Silas and Frank once...
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SOURCE: Aitken, Brian. “Baseball as Sacred Doorway in the Writing of W. P. Kinsella.” Aethlon: The Journal of Sport Literature 8, no. 1 (fall 1990): 61-75.
[In the following essay, Aitken examines the various allusions to religion in Kinsella's writing.]
Ninety feet between bases is the nearest to perfection that man has yet achieved.
Two years ago at the Canadian Learneds at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, I gave a paper entitled “The Emergence of Born-Again Sport” in which I examined Athletes-In-Action, one of the Evangelical Christian organizations catering...
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SOURCE: Campbell, Don G. Review of Red Wolf, Red Wolf, by W. P. Kinsella. Los Angeles Times Book Review (18 November 1990): 6.
[In the following review, Campbell offers a positive assessment of Red Wolf, Red Wolf.]
While W. P. Kinsella has written 15 books and more than 200 short stories, he is undoubtedly best known for his prize-winning novel, Shoeless Joe, which, in turn, became the mystic movie, Field of Dreams. In Red Wolf, Red Wolf, Kinsella's collection of 13 short stories, first published in Canada in 1987, we have a well-balanced cross section of the author's skills in shaping believable people moving against ordinary backgrounds...
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SOURCE: J. K. Review of Red Wolf, Red Wolf, by W. P. Kinsella. West Coast Review of Books 16 (January 1991): 21.
[In the following review, the critic praises Kinsella's storytelling abilities and provides several plot synopses of the stories in Red Wolf, Red Wolf.]
If you've never had the pleasure of reading anything by W. P. Kinsella, don't blow your chance now. A bona-fide baseball nut, Kinsella uses not only his love for the Great American Pastime but his love of America, its history and folklore, in establishing himself as Bard First Class. Red Wolf, Red Wolf, a unique collection of short stories, does nothing to threaten this well-earned title....
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SOURCE: Hamblin, Robert. “‘Magic Realism,’ or, The Split-Fingered Fastball of W. P. Kinsella.” Aethlon: The Journal of Sport Literature 9, no. 2 (spring 1992): 1-10.
[In the following essay, Hamblin examines the elements of “magic realism” present in Kinsella's works.]
As Robert Francis's well-known poem, “Pitcher,” persuades us, the actions and intentions of a baseball pitcher and a writer are remarkably analogous, since both employ indirection, subtlety, deception, and suspense to achieve their desired effects. That being the case, it seems appropriate to develop the subject of this paper, the intertwining of fact and fantasy in W. P. Kinsella's...
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SOURCE: Lord, Timothy C. “Hegel, Marx, and Shoeless Joe: Religious Ideology in Kinsella's Baseball Fantasy.” Aethlon: The Journal of Sport Literature 10, no. 1 (fall 1992): 43-51.
[In the following essay, Lord explores the spiritual elements in Shoeless Joe, noting that the plot of the novel reveals “basic philosophical assumptions about spiritual and material reality.”]
In 1843, at approximately the time of the rise of modern baseball in America, Karl Marx wrote the Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right. In the “Introduction” he asserts that “Religion … is the opium of the people” (54). It has been indicated that...
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SOURCE: Kirtz, Mary K. “Canadian Book, American Film: Shoeless Joe Transfigured on a Field of Dreams.” Literature Film Review 23 (1995): 26-31.
[In the following essay, Kirtz asserts that differences based on nationality are evident in Kinsella's Canadian novel Shoeless Joe and the American film adaptation Field of Dreams.]
In the opening and shutting of heaven's gate, Are you able to play the feminine part?
Lao Tzu Tao Teh Ching
Canadian poet Germaine Warkentin once observed that when Americans and Canadians look at each other, it is as if they are looking through a one-way mirror: Canadians look and see...
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SOURCE: Dougherty, David. Review of Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa, by W. P. Kinsella. Studies in Short Fiction 32, no. 1 (winter 1995): 106-07.
[In the following review, Dougherty notes that the release of the movie Field of Dreams has generated new interest in Kinsella's short story collection Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa.]
One night in Texas, the silence was broken by a loudspeaker-amplified midwestern voice, sounding very like a cola spokesperson, saying, “If you print it, they will buy.” Soon the University press brought out a handsome edition of W. P. Kinsella's collection of stories [Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa] that led...
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SOURCE: Jenkins, Clarence. “Kinsella's Shoeless Joe.” Explicator 53, no. 3 (spring 1995): 179-80.
[In the following review, Jenkins explores the theme of resurrection in Shoeless Joe.]
In W. P. Kinsella's sports novel Shoeless Joe, Ray Kinsella's visit with his twin brother's girlfriend Gypsy does not serve merely as a digression from the economic dilemma in which Ray finds himself. While at the carnival with which Gypsy travels, Ray tours the “strange babies” sideshow, where the careful reader is able to encounter a microcosm of the novel's action. It is in the ill-kept trailer that Ray notices “about a dozen glass containers,” each containing a...
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SOURCE: Panofsky, Ruth. “Of Loss and Hope.” Canadian Literature, no. 149 (summer 1996): 165-66.
[In the following excerpt, Panofsky evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of The Winter Helen Dropped By.]
Although each addresses such contemporary issues as the often diminished lives of Native Canadians and the pervasive presence of television in urban North America, two recent novels by W. P. Kinsella and Cordelia Strube are traditional in form and ideology. Each novel charts the linear development of a male protagonist, whose private struggles through a series of difficulties result in a sense of closure. As Jamie O'Day and Milton seek to construct rounded world...
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SOURCE: Beach, Charles Franklyn. “Joyful vs. Joyless Religion in W. P. Kinsella's Shoeless Joe.” Aethlon: The Journal of Sport Literature 16, no. 1 (fall 1998): 85-94.
[In the following essay, Beach examines Kinsella's assertion that “the best sports literature isn't really about sports,” using Kinsella's novel Shoeless Joe as his primary example.]
On the surface, W. P. Kinsella's novel Shoeless Joe appears to be a story about baseball, about dreams that come true. However, as Kinsella states, “The best sports literature isn't really about sports” (qtd. in Horvath and Palmer 186). This holds true for Shoeless Joe, a novel that...
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SOURCE: Review of Magic Time, by W. P. Kinsella. Kirkus Reviews 69, no. 19 (1 October 2001): 1385-386.
[In the following review, the critic faults Magic Time for being overly sentimental, contrived, and a rehashing of similar themes and plots from Kinsella's previous novels.]
Canadian native Kinsella's first novel to be published in the US since Box Socials (1992), [Magic Time,] is another saga of baseball in Iowa.
Ever since the success of Field of Dreams, the film based on his novel Shoeless Joe, Kinsella has been plowing the same furrow of corn-fed, baseball-driven magical realism. This new effort comes...
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SOURCE: Review of Magic Time, by W. P. Kinsella. Publishers Weekly 248, no. 44 (29 October 2001): 36.
[In the following review, the critic delivers a brief plot summary and contends that while not as strong as Kinsella's previous works, Magic Time still provides a satisfying ending, genuine characters, and an interesting look at baseball history.]
Previously published in Canada and optioned for film by the producer of The Natural, [Magic Time] is a warmhearted, homespun novel by the award-winning author of 30 books—including Shoeless Joe, which was made into the Academy Award-nominated Kevin Costner movie Field of Dreams....
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Asinof, Eliot. “Did Leonardo Invent the Home Run?” New York Times (20 April 1986): 15.
Asinof argues that Kinsella's The Iowa Baseball Confederacy is slow and repetitious.
Batten, Jack. “Diamonds Are for Evers.” Books in Canada 15 (August-September 1986): 20.
Batten offers a positive assessment of The Iowa Baseball Confederacy, complimenting Kinsella's “fine lyrical style.”
Cochran, Robert W. “A Second Cool Papa: Hemingway to Kinsella and Hays.” Arete: The Journal of Sport Literature 4, no. 2 (spring 1987): 27-40.
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