The release of Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon's new novel comes just in time for those of us blissing out on major-league baseball's underdog-heavy post-season.Chabon's Summerland is an elaborate fantasy about the people of Clam Island, who are obsessed with America's favourite game. It helps that Summerland, the western tip of the island where their diamond is situated, has always been blessed with brilliant weather even when it's godawful everywhere else.
Then it rains. The fairies responsible for the constant sunshine are being threatened by their old and powerful enemy Coyote, and only a true baseball hero can save them -- and the world.
They recruit 11-year-old Ethan Feld, whose dad is a gifted inventor, whose mother has died of cancer, and who, unfortunately, is one of the worst baseballers ever to slap on a mitt. He has to find a way to pick up a team -- in this case a hilariously motley crew -- that can cross over into the other world and win the most important ball game ever played.
Chabon conjures up his hapless characters and the Other World in dreamy prose that helps the story zip right along, and there are heart-wrenching moments that do offer an emotional payoff. But, billed as a novel for young adults, Summerland lacks the heft of his prize-winning The Adventures Of Kavalier And Clay, which had the rise of Nazism as a backdrop, and it's less pointed in its social commentary than his breakout work, Wonder Boys.
Whatever its audience, there's not nearly enough baseball. Chabon hasn't tapped into America's rich tradition of baseball literature. I was hoping for three whole chapters charting the final conflict, but had to settle for the equivalent of a Sportsnet recap.
Chabon reads at Nicholas Hoare on Wednesday (October 23). See Readings, page 44.
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SUMMERLAND by Michael Chabon (Hyperion), 492 pages, $32.95 cloth. Rating: NNN