For this review and other thoughts about underwhelming books check out: The Scruffy Rube, my independent website.
I wanted to like Summerland so very desperately. I had enjoyed Michael Chabon’s Kavalier and Clay, I often enjoy young adult literature, I almost always enjoy baseball literature…this was as tailor-made for me as a four hopper to short is tailor-made for a double play.
But sadly, seeing all the separate enjoyable components does not automatically create an enjoyable whole (as anyone who has shared a shrimp, jalapeño pizza with me can attest). Though Chabon is talented, Summerland doesn’t show it. Though young adult literature has exploded into a range of superb genres and subgenres, Summerland doesn’t want to fit in any of them. Though baseball is, perhaps, the greatest thing ever invented (next to hyperbole of course) Summerland doesn’t show it.
Perhaps the most fatal flaw in the book is that Chabon seems to rely on the natural magic of baseball to carry through, allowing him to flit around the edges of the game with random bits of fairy stories and folklore creatures. Baseball is magic. Few people argue that point as often and vociferously as I do (for more proof of this see my nerdy baseball blog). However, baseball’s magic isn’t as simple as saying the word or alluding to a few bits of play-by-play. The magic of baseball and sports in general (for those who are truly consumed by it) is deeply personal, emotional to its core and needs to be treated with the same depth of description as Hemingway uses for war, or Marquez uses for…well…everything.
Without evoking the personal impact for himself, Chabon seems guilty of that greatest baseball book sin: “using the game to prove a point” (looking at you Bernard Malmud). Baseball is his way into a hyper-magical land of giants, fairies, pixies, sprites, demons and Bigfeet (bigfoots?). That glossing jars hardcore sports/literary nerds like myself. But if he were to take the time and let a lover of the game unfold the sport it might be a better complement to the magical world…or maybe I’m just picky.