Matthew Reddin
Retro Read

Summerland

By - Aug 14th, 2011 04:00 am
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Michael Chabon’s Summerland is a strange book for me to love. It’s a story built around baseball: a sport in which my greatest achievement was noticing it was time to come in to bat before my teammates started yelling at me.

Summerland isn’t really a story about baseball though. It is on one level, much like how it is also a story about magic, fairies (or ferishers, as they prefer to be known), the plotting of the archetypal Coyote, roadtrips, and your typical hero’s journey. But what it’s really about — and why it’s still appealing, years after I’ve aged out of its primary demographic — is being young, no matter how old you are.

The story, which blends elements of Norse, Native American, and frontier American mythology, follows Ethan Feld, the worst player in the history of his little league. Despite his lack of any discernable skills at the beginning of the novel, he is recruited to lead a team of baseball-playing heroes against Coyote, who seeks to destroy the universe by eradicating the Tree of Worlds supporting it.

Summerland by Michael Chabon

From there, the narrative evolves into a tale that could put most summer blockbusters to shame. Ethan slowly gathers a crew to fill the positions of his heroic baseball team, with ferishers on first and second, a miniature giant playing shortstop and werebeasts and a Sasquatch in the outfield. Ethan takes up as the catcher and team captain, both roles of dubious merit he must grow into over the course of the novel.

The novel itself is nothing difficult to get through, being written for children or teens. Yet that makes what Chabon is able to do with it all the more remarkable. For one, the story is gripping regardless of its reading difficulty, and for another, the simplistic syntax of the novel results in a number of passages that are simply stunning in their Zen-like majesty.

Perhaps the book’s greatest achievement, though, is in its ability to evoke nostalgia in an older audience without compromising its integrity to a younger audience. The book is just as charming a read today as it was the first time I turned the cover page, although my reasons are different. Then, it was a captivating story about magic and fantasy in a real-world context; now, it is a reminder of how wonderful such a story could be to a younger me, who sought to grow up and change the way the children in Summerland change.

Summerland is not high art. It’s a young adult book at its finest, and it’s a read that’ll probably take the average adult a few days at most. But what a wonderful few days they’ll be.

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