Ray Kinsella is sitting quietly on the back porch of his Iowa farm one evening when he hears the ghostly voice of a baseball announcer who says to him, “If you build it, he will come.” Needing no further explanation, Kinsella immediately sees in his mind’s eye a baseball field that he is being asked to create in the middle of a corn field. The voice will speak only two other things to Ray: “Ease his pain” and “Go the distance,” and yet the dreaming, idealistic man knows just what he is supposed to do. He knows that digging up the corn field in the back of his house will inspire the return of baseball legend Shoeless Joe Jackson, a man whose reputation was forever tarnished by the scandalous 1919 World Series. So opens the award-winning novel by W.P. Kinsella which was the inspiration for the incredibly popular film Field of Dreams starring Kevin Costner.
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W.P. Kinsella has been called a great writer of baseball novels but this title transcends that description. Kinsella doesn’t merely treat baseball as a subject in and of itself; instead, he uses it as a metaphor to discuss larger issues such as innocence, belief, and perhaps above all of these things, America. Shoeless Joe is a parable about one of the most fundamental American ideals: beginning anew.
By plowing up a large section of his farmland, Ray Kinsella is both building and rebuilding, creating what has never been as well as re-creating in a sense what had come before. The land had been a place where past sins could be expunged and a new vision realized. It is exactly this sort of renewal that Kinsella’s quixotic creation brings about. Most importantly, this is a story about renewal and redress of trauma and sins of the past.
Shoeless Joe is #47 on the Sports Illustrated Greatest 100 Sports books.