Summerland

I checked out a book the other day called Summerland by Michael Chabon. You know, Michael Chabon the Pulitzer Prize winning author. I don't know about you but I can be a little intimidated by these writers that win big fancy awards. Are their books going to be any fun or are they going to be dreary and hopeless, all about failed cattle ranchers sitting on the range, staring into the embers of a fire, reflecting on the nature of humanity? Or even worse, I read a book this week that was up for an award that was all about a dead girl floating around from the brain of her dog to the brain of the suicide bomber that killed her. No thank you. Mercifully, when I opened this book it seemed to be about baseball and dirigibles or at least baseball and dirigibles were going to be quite important to the storyline. I'm not the biggest baseball fan in the world but I'd rather read a baseball novel than something about existential angst or bombing victims.

Summerland turned out to be about much more than baseball (and lighter than air vehicles), it's also about coyote, the trickster who has been systematically destroying the ability to get from one branch of the world tree to the next, and is now trying to bring about the end of the universe. Who knew that baseball, one of America's favorite summer sports is also part of the glue that holds everything together?

Ethan Feld is an unhappy boy. His mother recently died of cancer, resulting in a move to a tiny place called Clam Island, and his father is obsessed with building personal airships that are just perfect for family locomotion. The only time Mr. Feld is inclined to come out of his workshop is when he comes to watch Ethan play Little League, despite the fact that Ethan is an absolutely horrible player and spends a lot of time praying that he won't be called up to bat.

One day on the way to a game, where he's sure he'll play so poorly that everyone will hate him, he sees a strange animal on the road. Then he meets an odd old man at the game, discovers that one of his favorite places is about to be torn down by loud men with machines, and it starts to rain on the baseball field, the one place on Clan Island that never, ever has rain. Everything is falling apart and Ethan is heartsick. Then he meets a werefox who takes him to a group of tiny people called ferishers where he learns he has a great destiny as, of all things, a baseball player, and that he's supposed to have what it takes to foil Coyote's plot.

Utterly confused, Ethan has no idea what to do until his father vanishes, leaving behind a set of magical sunglasses worn by the creature that kidnapped him. When Ethan wears the glasses he can see his father blindfolded and lying on a bare mattress. Terribly frightened for his father Ethan sets out with his friend Jennifer T., the excellent pitcher, a boy called Thor who thinks he's an android, and a motley collection of beings to find his father and save the world tree. Along the way they meet giants and liars, a sad Sasquatch and an angry princess, and a whole host of other ballplayers. For to paraphrase one of the characters, you're not going to make it all the way across the country without playing a whole mess of baseball.

Summerland is an American book in the same sense that Tom Sawyer is an American book. Despite the fact that it takes place in another part of the world tree, it's filled with characters we recognize as American; tellers of tall tales like Wild Bill Pecos, big foot and Coyote himself, even La Llorona, the crying woman, is from the Americas. But in addition to the heaping platefuls of American mythology and stories there are others mixed in to the melting pot that is this book. The children are trying their best to avert the end of everything, an event called Ragged Rock, which of course brings the Norse legend of Ragnarok to mind. In fact they have to journey to Winterland, perhaps a nod to Fimbulwinter, the great big winter that precedes Ragnarok.

All this myth might make the story sound like it's going to drag or preachy or even annoying if you aren't up on your pantheons but that doesn't happen. At its heart it's a grand adventure story with terror and tears, hope and happiness and quite possibly the greatest baseball hit in the history of the worlds. At the risk of sounding like a dolt, I didn't realize this book was meant for children. My library is kind of small and the Young Adult section is right between science fiction/fantasy, romance and adventure/suspense/horror so when I find a book on display that appeals to me I'm never quite sure if it's supposed to appeal to adults or children. This one I think could appeal to just about anyone who ever loved a long summer day.

One-Paragraph Review

This week's one-paragraph review is from <_< who reviews the new film Superbad. "When I first saw the trailer for Superbad I thought it might be good. Five minutes in, I was worried it would suck. But by 15 minutes the characters' personalities had me hooked, and by the end of the movie I was a huge fan of both the movie and the characters. I definitely recommend this movie, it was better than expected in every way." Have you got a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me and I'll run the most interesting ones. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.