Rediscover: Shoeless Joe

Canadian novelist W.P. Kinsella, author of Shoeless Joe, which became the 1989 Kevin Costner film Field of Dreams, died last week at age 81. Kinsella's novels and short stories were primarily about baseball, with dashes of magical realism, and about the plight of Native Canadians. His first published book, Dance Me Outside (1977), is a collection of 17 stories set on a Cree Indian reserve in Central Alberta. Shoeless Joe (1982) and The Iowa Baseball Confederacy (1987) remain Kinsella's most enduring works. In 1997, he suffered a brain injury during a car accident that kept him from publishing another novel until 2011's Butterfly Winter. Kinsella died via doctor-assisted suicide after suffering from diabetes for many decades.

Shoeless Joe takes its title from Shoeless Joe Jackson, a baseball player banned from the sport after the Black Sox scandal of the 1919 World Series (though he was likely innocent of any involvement in the conspiracy by a group of White Sox players to throw the series). Ray Kinsella, the novel's protagonist, hears a voice telling him to build a baseball field in the middle of his Iowa corn farm. Ray's field summons the spirit of his hero, Shoeless Joe, and other baseball legends seeking redemption. Ray sets out to find to find J.D. Salinger, another of his heroes, and ease the reclusive author's pain. Among several other alterations, the film Field of Dreams replaces J.D. Salinger with fictional author Terence Mann. It also brought the phrase "if you build it, they will come," into popular use, though both versions of Kinsella's story actually say "he will come." Shoeless Joe was last published in 1999 by Mariner Books ($13.95, 9780395957738). --Tobias Mutter

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