I have great difficulty in reviewing this book objectively. The movie version of this book, 1989s 'Field of Dreams', formed such a spine to my imagination as I read through 'Shoeless Joe' I admit I will never be able to provide objective review of the book. Therefore I have not sought to be objective, but to weigh off the merits of one of my favourite movies of all time against the book which inspired it.
Blessedly, the book is different enough so as to make differentiation and create points of discussion. Primarily, Where in the film we go on a journey with Ray Kinsella, finding purpose along the way for other characters but not knowing what is the ultimate purpose for Ray is until the very end; in the novel we are presented up front clearly what Ray wants in the end but its the journey teaching him about why he wants it. A change in emphasis making the book deeper and more worthwhile I feel.
Upon instruction from a mysterious voice, Ray builds a baseball field among his corn crop in rural Iowa. Building the field elicits visitations from disgraced yet oft forgiven ex-baseballer 'Shoeless' Joe Jackson, followed by many other former players who look for a chance to play the game they love more than any other. Strangely although the book is named after him, the character of Shoeless Joe has very little part in the story.
The characters of the book are very different to Field of Dreams that may prove challenging for lovers of the movie. Ray Kinsella in the movie is a soul somewhat lost in life, having rejected the great passion that he and his father had for baseball. In the book he remains an obsessive fan of the game and litters his narration with facts from its history. The movie used baseball as a vessel to try and bring a moral story, the book is more deeply entrenched in the history of America's summer pastime describing how it touches each of the characters lives.
Reclusive author J.D. Salinger (based on the genuine reclusive author of the same name) is harder and less emotive than the movies equivalent reclusive author character Terence Mann. The dialogue between him and Ray reads as more terse, giving a feeling that although they need each other to continue to journey together they often pull against each other. Archibald 'Moonlight' Graham is an objective and a driven character, lacking the genteel nature that the movie brought him as.
Ray's wife Annie has little influence on the story. Lovers of the movie will no doubt remember the unquestioning devotion she has for her husband Ray. The relationship for the movie is a highlight, but although Ray states in the book just how much she supports and means to him we do not observe this. Without the movie it may not have ever come to my attention as a flaw, however it has and it to mine is a great shame.
The movie allowed the viewer the freedom to not have much interest in baseball and keep pace with the story. The book does call upon the reader to at least be familiar with its terminology and gameplay. That you are well aware from the start the story is of the journey towards ones dreams rather than the dreams being an end in themselves keeps you reading on and on. The difficulty is how would Kinsella close out this story – he does not, giving it the perfect ending.
My review here is not at all objective, and I make no apologies for this. For mine having watched the movie and now read the book I believe both could be improved by unique elements of each. For a book that I rate Footballs this means it falls short, but still worth reading.
Cover image thanks to bookdepository.co.uk