Michael Chabon, |
Michael Chabon hits a grand slam in Summerland, a marvelous work of mythic fiction with wide cross-generational appeal.
Clam Island, off the coast of Washington state, enjoys an unusual meteorological phenomenon. One portion of the island, known as Summerland, enjoys gorgeous rain-free weather every June, July and August. That's where the baseball diamond is, and that's where a game is never called on account of rain.
But 11-year-old Ethan Feld is "the worst baseball player in the history of Clam Island," and he desperately wants to quit his team, Ruth's Fluff 'n' Fold Roosters. His father, an eccentric and recently widowed inventor, and his best friend, Jennifer T. Rideout, encourage him to stay on the team. He agrees to stick out one more game -- and that's when everything changes.
Ethan is drafted to help save the ferishers, the small beings who regulate the weather. Their enemy is none other than Coyote, and Ethan's quest will take him into the Summerlands, another branch of the ancient tree of the world. Accompanying him are Jennifer T. and Thor Wignutt, a boy who thinks he's an android, and along the way, they acquire a crew of traveling companions that include a Sasquatch (don't call her "Bigfoot"!), a wererat and a not-so-giant giant. They become a traveling ball club, playing their way to a showdown with Coyote and his plan for Ragged Rock -- that's the end of the world, by the way.
It is impossible to do justice to the plot, which is complex and tightly woven. It's thoroughly engrossing with remarkable depth and levels of meaning; even at the simplest level, the story is rich and satisfying. The characterization is authentic and appealing as well, and the characters are well-rounded and brilliantly portrayed.
Chabon integrates American folklore into world mythology seamlessly, and the use of baseball as the medium is perfect. Even those of us who are hopeless at the game (I would qualify as the worst player in the history of the planet) can appreciate the magical elements attributed to the game, and Chabon makes them so logical that you wonder why you hadn't thought of it before. The cheery cover by William Joyce and Reel FX is a beautiful crowning touch.
I confess to being leery of the hype surrounding this title, but once I started reading, I knew what I was holding: a modern classic. Chabon is destined to join Baum, Aiken, Alexander, Cooper, L'Engle, Pullman and Rowling on the eternal bookshelf.