Book Reviews

Book Review: Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella – Field of Dreams with J.D. Salinger

This book was the basis for the film Field of Dreams. A few things have been changed (J.D. Salinger apparently was not willing to be represented in the film), but if you enjoyed the film, I can definitely say the book is at least as good, if not better.

Ray Kinsella is happily married and attempting to play farmer on a small, family farm in Iowa. He’s always loved the game of baseball and is imparting this love to his family, particularly his daughter, Karin. One night he hears a voice tell him “If you build it, he will come..” and sees a vision of a baseball diamond where part of his cornfield is. Ray had been reading about the career of Shoeless Joe Jackson and thought the voice means him.

His wife, Annie, is as much a free spirit as Ray and encourages him to follow his dream. If you’ve seen the movie, you know the basic story. It’s all pretty much the same here, with a few new characters along the way. After Shoeless Joe appears in the outfield and plays ball with Ray, he brings other vintage baseball players along with him. Only those who believe and have faith can see these players on the field; to everyone else, it’s just an empty baseball diamond carved on the edge of the cornfield.

J.D. Salinger, the reclusive author of Catcher in the Rye, is the next target of the voice, or so Ray believes. On the way back, he also makes a side trip for Moonlight Graham. The man they bought the farm from originally was purported to be a Chicago Cubs player, and Ray helps him along on his dream too. There are more characters and more details in Shoeless Joe than in the film.

Perhaps the best thing, though, is the level of detail we get about Ray’s relationship with his late father, John. It really is a book about the relationship between fathers and sons, or fathers and their children, and the hopes and dreams we impart to our kids. A long-lost twin brother of Ray’s turns up as well in a life that is at the edge of society, but this is all key in Ray finding meaning in his life and wrapping up some of the loose ends he has feelings about.

I enjoyed Shoeless Joe. The characters have great depth and the added details really help this story. For baseball fans who have seen the movie, I highly recommend the book. You’ll laugh and you’ll cry as the saying goes. Most of all, you’ll remember what the excitement of the game feels like.