Box Socials

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Those who read SHOELESS JOE, or reveled in the movie FIELD OF DREAMS, are well aware that W. P. Kinsella is inclined more to caricature than characterization. BOX SOCIAL purports to relate how a young man from a rural Canadian town sought fame and fortune in professional baseball. In point of fact, the work is about Jamie O’Day and his eccentric, if not bizarre neighbors.

Jamie O’Day’s parents were among that large group compelled by the Great Depression to seek economic survival in alternative occupations or locations. In the case of John Martin Duffy O’Day this meant involuntary retirement from constructing homes in Edmonton, Alberta to the life of a farmer sixty miles west of the city. But if the economic situation is bleak the people of the tiny hamlets of New Oslo, Doreen Beach, Sangudo, and Fark nonetheless manage to keep themselves amused with gossip, baseball, and box socials.

The box social, a function with innumerable local variations now almost defunct, is the culinary equivalent of the blind date. Young women prepare a quantity of food, place same in a gaily decorated box (hence the name), and young men engage in an auction to determine the identity of their dining partner (thus the social part of the phrase). Needless to say, the identity of those who prepare the box lunches is kept secret, save in those instances when a prior intimacy exists. Nothing in this rural town is quite what it appears to be.

BOX SOCIAL is anything but linear in its development; Kinsella frequently relates the same incident from multiple perspectives. This literary device may annoy some, but the result is humorous and winsome.