I love books and I love baseball and I love the way W. P. Kinsella mixes fantasy with reality in his novels. I've known people who think there was simply a bit too much fantasy in THE IOWA BASEBALL CONFEDERACY, but, for me, there wasn't. This is a more complicated story than SHOELESS JOE (on which the film, FIELD OF DREAMS was based), to be sure, but, like SHOELESS JOE, THE IOWA BASEBALL CONFEDERACY contains magic. Not just magical realism, but magic.
THE IOWA BASEBALL CONFEDERACY begins when Matthew Clarke is struck by lightning. Coming to, he realizes that he "knows" something no one else knows: that on July 4, 1908, the Chicago Cubs played an almost 2000 inning game in Onamata, Iowa with a little known amateur team called the Iowa Baseball Confederacy. Although, Matthew writes his Masters thesis on the game, everyone denies the existence of the Iowa Baseball Confederacy and Matthew can find no trace of it anywhere...but in his own mind. With his life seemingly in ruins, Matthew, in 1978, allows himself to be hit by a line drive, committing suicide. Matthew's death, however, doesn't mark the end of the search for the Iowa Baseball Confederacy. Upon Matthew's death, his son, Gideon, discovers that he has "inherited" his father's memory of the game and must set out on a quest of his own to prove its existence.
Gideon and his friend, Stan, know there must be some logical (or even illogical) reason why no one can remember this historic game or even the Iowa Baseball Confederacy. Together, they find a way to travel back to July 4, 1908 and watch the game, and learn the truth, themselves. What they see is nothing like what they expected. Involved are floods, a Native American and even Leonardo da Vinci, who floats by in a hot air balloon. And, Onamata was, in 1908, not called Onamata. The second half of THE IOWA BASEBALL CONFEDERACY is filled with the strangest baseball game anyone will ever read about, anywhere, but it's certainly one I wouldn't have wanted to miss.
W.P. Kinsella is an extraordinary writer and he's one of only a handful of writers who can really handle magical realism well. While his short stories are filled with melancholy and loss, his novels are a mix of the homespun, the real and the fantastic...and, more importantly, he pulls all of this together and makes us believe. The characters in THE IOWA BASEBALL CONFEDERACY are very well drawn and I could really feel their hope and their pain. The subplot revolving around the minor league player who finally gets his one big chance is quite poignant and bittersweet.
Kinsella successfully mixes fact and fiction in THE IOWA BASEBALL CONFEDERACY. There are "real" people in this book: Bill Klem, Three Finger Brown and Frank Chance, and they only serve to help make the forty day game more real.
While THE IOWA BASEBALL CONFEDERACY is infused with just as much magic as SHOELESS JOE, it is a far denser story, with many more subplots. People needing a more straightforward story might be better off to stick with SHOELESS JOE.
If I have one complaint about THE IOWA BASEBALL CONFEDERACY, it's that the Biblical symbolism was a little too heavy for me. But it wasn't so heavy as to reduce this book from a five star read to a four star one.
No one writes about baseball or the people involved with the game better than W.P. Kinsella. I would definitely recommend THE IOWA BASEBALL CONFEDERACY to anyone who loves baseball and can suspend his or her disbelief long enough to let a little magic into his life. It will certainly be worth it.