Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Book Review Club - Summerland

This month for the Book Review Club, I curled up with Michael Chabon's, Summerland. I chose the piece because I'd never read anything by Chabon. Simple as that. I didn't know he'd won the Pulitzer Prize before choosing the book. I also (guilty cough) didn't know how good-looking he is. Wow. A good-looking man who can write? Compelling.

As is Summerland.

The story is about 12 year-old Ethan Feld, whose mother has died. His father, an engineer, wants to build dirigibles for a living, but as balloons that people can use individually. He moves Ethan and himself from Colorado to a small island, Clam Island, off of the coast of Washington to fulfill his dream.

His father also has another passion, baseball. Ethan doesn't share that passion, at least not at the beginning of the book. He's horrible at baseball, but plays for his father, winning himself the nickname Dog Boy because he stands at the plate waiting and trying to get a walk - like a dog - rather than trying to hit the ball.

Games on Clam Island take place on a narrow section of the island that, unlike the rest of it, is constantly sunny. Oddly sunny. Out of the ordinary sunny. Ethan soon learns why. The section of land is pleached - co-joined - with an alternate universe, The Summerlands.

The Summerlands is inhabited by ferishers - fairies - giants, sasquatsches, and the stuff of legends and old adventures. What's more, everybody in the Summerlands plays baseball. EVERYBODY. Much to Ethan's surprise, he's recruited by a strange old scout to play baseball for the Summerlands, and learns, when he journeys between his world and theirs, that it's for more than a world cup, it's for the world as we know it.

Wily old Coyote - the book is full of a rich mixture of various legends and folklore, this one being American Indian - is trying to bring about the end of the world. Ethan must somehow stop him. Coyote, however, gets a hold of Ethan's father and tricks Mr. Feld into reproducing the picofiber material that he created for his dirigibles for Coyote's end-of-the-world plans.

In the meantime, Ethan races across the Summerlands to stop Coyote. The trickster is planning on poisoning the Lodgepole, the tree, the brancehs of which both hold up and connect the Summerlands, the Middling (where we live) and the Winterlands (wher Coyote and his band of tricketers like to hang out), and the Gleaming (where spirits reside) - the alternate universes.

The tree is fed by a well, and Coyote wants to poison the well by using Mr. Feld's picofibers to transfer Nothingness down to the very roots of the tree. To get to the well, Ethan - like an hero - has to go through a series of adventures, most of them involving some form of baseball, which test his character and help him find his true strength and courage.

If it sounds rich and complex, it is. Chabon deftly uses 500 pages to introduce and bring to life this intricate and moving tale. While perhaps the greatest criticism I've both experienced and read about the piece is its slower pacing, the longer I've thought about it, the less inclined I am to mark it up as a fault of the book. Ethan's dad, Mr. Feld, says more than once that "a baseball game is nothing but a great slow contraption for getting you to pay attention to the cadence of a summer day." Chabon creates and weaves into the story steady, relaxed, even pacing, I think, to get the reader herself to slow down, to chew on the gristle of the story, and to perhaps, if one can slow down enough, relax into and get lost in the journey, rather than race pell-mell through its adventures and mishaps toward that all-encompassing climax. Of course, the book does have a climax - one that will you make smile and remember fondly your own hours spent in a game up pick up baseball - but I'd venture to say, after having traveled through Summerland at a leisurely pace, this read is a lot more about the journey being the goal, as much as the climax of the story.

So if you're up for a relaxed adventure rich with tongue and cheek as well as a smattering of the world's collection of mesmerizing folklore, that will leave you yearning for the Summerlands as much as Ethan, pick up Chabon's bases loaded, sunny day, just you and your bat against the tomfoolery of the world's oldest trickster Summerland.

Go on, pick it up....you know you want to.

For more awesome reviews, mosey on over to our fearless leader's blog, Barrie Summy, whose put up links to them all.


Kim Kasch said...

I haven't read this one.

Our book club is doing The Last Lecture - and another group is doing The Graveyard Book (love Neil Gaiman)

kaye said...

yeah, I want to . . . nice review

D.A. Riser said...

Baseball, my favorite! This definitely sounds like a book I'd like. I'm adding it to the read list.

Anonymous said...

Interesting comment about the author. "Editorial Ass" blogger said she was in love with him. Will have to check this out.

beth said...

Oh, cool! I'd never seen this book before, but it looks brilliant!

Sarah Laurence said...

I didn’t know Chambon wrote for kids too. I enjoyed reading this well detailed review although I don’t think this book would be for me as I have no interest in baseball (although some in cricket – I married a Brit). I have been meaning to read one of Chambon’s adult books.

Keri Mikulski said...

Love baseball! And I knew so many players who played for parents. Sounds interesting.

Thanks for the review.

Barrie said...

What a thoughtful review, Stacy! I've never read this book. And it really sounds like something I'd like.

Sarahlynn said...

I'm a little confused, but very intrigued. I was planning to pick The Yiddish Policeman's Union for my book club's next read but now I think I'll give the others a choice between this Chabon and that one!

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

I may have to check this one out, too. I loved Cavalier and Clay so much. I bet this one is as good.
Have you read his wife's book? It was stunning in it's beauty.

Stacy Nyikos said...

Green Girl - I have not read his wife's book. I'd like to. He's such a fascinating writer. What is her name?

Kathy - He's really got these amazing eyes. Really amazing. Alas, I shall have to pine away in secret as he is happily married with 4 kids...oh, and I am too, with 2 kids. Momentary lapse of reason there!

Sarah - Summerland is a great relaxing read. I haven't read Cavalier and Clay, but now I want to. He won the Pulitzer for that one. And it's a YA!

Sarah Laurence said...

That's the one I'd like to read too. I hadn't realized it was YA. I took it out of the library and my husband read it instead of me.