Thursday, June 2, 2016
Summerland by Michael Chabon - Book Review
Soon after I started reading the re-issue of Michael Chabon's 2002 fantasy novel Summerland (Harper Perennial reissue, 2016, 528 pages, $11.10/10.99) I was captured by this story of Ethan Feld, characterized as “the worst ball player in the history of Clam Island,” a nine or ten year old boy who has lost his mother and lives with his inventor father on an island off the coast of Washington. As the novel opens, Ethan's father is taking him to pick up his friend Jennifer T. Rideout, a super player, to go to Summerland, a baseball field on Clam Island where it never rains, and local residents have played baseball for generations. As I approach three-fourths of a century, I have come to the point in life where a suggested age range of 10 – 13 years with a grade range of fifth to eighth is no longer threatening to me. Chabon opens this lengthy, involving, intriguing trip into the world of baseball, magic, strange creatures, and the ultimate battle between good and evil with a rather lengthy forward detailing the geneses of this book in his own losses coupled with his desire to marry a book about baseball with the world of fantasy and coming of age. He succeeds on all fronts.
It turns out that the Summerland baseball field lies at a crucial crossing point of various strands of the universe, a place where worlds that seem to be different interconnect. Various peoples and creatures viewed by those of us who are limited to our own world come together and interact in semi-conscious and mystical ways. So creatures familiar to all of us in our mythological and imaginary lives, come alive in Summerland. Werewolves, fairies, giants, abominable snowmen (or women), Paul Bunyan, Pecos Pete, and many more we know as well as others that, as far as I can tell, Chabon invents criss-cross through the pages of the book as Ethan and his friend Jennifer T. fight a battle for what turns out to be the future of all the worlds of the universe. The forces of evil, commanded by the shapeshifter Coyote, wage a desperate, dirty, unsportsmanlike (remember the baseball metaphor) battle to subdue light, goodness, and fair play. Throughout, a reader, depending upon such factors as age, openness to to fantasy worlds, curiousity, and such, will be delighted, intrigued, and beguiled. The book creates a new universe, as all good fantasy does, which captures just enough verisimilitude to keep the world familiar...and strange. The tension and suspense are effective enough to keep one reading, never quite certain that a good ending is, indeed, possible.
I haven't read anything by Michael Chabon since the wonderful Amazing Adventures of Kavilier & Clay, written an 2000, which won a Pulitzer prize in 2001. Chabon's career has involved him in writing novels as well as film-scripts. He's also a fairly regular contributor to the New Yorker. Along with novels, he has published screenplays, children's books, comics, and newspaper serials. He lives in Berkeley, California, with his wife, the novelist Ayelet Waldman, and their children
Summerland by Michael Chabon (Harper Perennial reissue, 2016, 528 pages, $11.10/10.99) is described as children's fantasy fiction, but unless fantasy readers are always children, its appeal is much wider than that, reaching out with humor, nuance, and enormous creative imagination to readers of any age who are not bound by the strictures of reality. I received the book from the publisher as an electronic galley through Edelweiss: Above the Treeline and read it on my Kindle App.