Alan's Reviews > Summerland

Summerland by Michael Chabon
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Jan 20, 11

Recommended to Alan by: His more adult-oriented work
Recommended for: Anyone who sees a touch of magic in the world
Read in November, 2010, read count: 3

"Yet we know that no branch is utterly severed from the Tree of Life that sustains us all."
—Peter Hewitt, as quoted in a Unitarian hymnal.


Michael Chabon's Summerland offers a tale both staunchly traditional and boldly imaginative, weaving elements of Norse mythology together with Native American legends, tall tales, and just a dash of science fiction. And baseball... more than anything else, this book is about baseball. But don't let that put you off, even if you don't care for the game (and I must admit I'm nothing like a fan myself). After all, as it's written in Peavine's How to Catch Lightning and Smoke, "a baseball game is nothing but a great slow contraption for getting you to pay attention to the cadence of a summer day." I've read this book through three times now—once for myself, once to my son, and once more to my daughter—and each time through I've found it more rewarding.

Ethan Feld is the center of the book, an ordinary boy growing up in more-or-less ordinary circumstances out on Clam Island, a relatively remote locale in the Pacific Northwest which is only reachable by ferry, ever since the spectacular collapse of the Clam Island Narrows Bridge in 1943. The bridge has never been rebuilt; as the residents believe and Chabon explains, "Islands have always been strange and magical places; crossing the water to reach them ought to be, even in a small way, an adventure."

Clam Island has a piece of that magic: Summerland, a park at the tip of the island containing Jock McDougal Field, where somehow it never seems to rain whenever there's a game to play.

Not that Ethan's overjoyed by this. He plays catcher on the Clam Island Roosters, but it's mostly to please his recently-widowed father, Bruce Feld, the inventor of picofiber and the personal zeppelin—Ethan just can't seem to pay attention to the game, or hit a ball to save his life. In fact, he's just about ready to quit the team, although his best friend Jennifer T. Rideout, the pitcher for the Roosters, tells him that's "Not going to happen."

But then... the magic comes, inescapably. Mr. Feld is kidnapped by Coyote the Trickster, and Ethan, Jennifer and Thor Wignutt, another Clam Island Rooster who sometimes goes by the android name TW03, are taken scampering by the werefox Cutbelly among the branches of the world-spanning Tree (Yggdrasil, in all but name), on a desperate quest to rescue Mr. Feld, and almost incidentally to avert Ragged Rock, the prophesied end of everything.

The details of their quest are... well, they matter, of course, but in a way they're not even the point. Ethan learns how to play baseball from its inventors, the ferishers (don't call them faerie) and the whole book comes crashing to a very satisfying and cathartic crescendo. Happily ever after is, while not really a possibility, certainly hinted at.

As a father, Chabon knows what will hit home. I was unable to read this antepenultimate paragraph to my daughter without breaking...
"It was the kind of promise a father makes easily and sincerely, knowing at the same time that it will be impossible to keep. The truth of some promises is not as important as whether or not you can believe in them, with all your heart. A game of baseball can't really make a summer day last forever. A home run can't really heal all the broken places in our world, or in a single human heart. And there was no way that Mr. Feld could keep his promise never to leave Ethan again. All parents leave their children one day."
—p.480


While that may be true, it is devoutly to be hoped that you can hang around at least long enough to finish this book with them.
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Comments (showing 1-4)




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message 4: by Amanda (new) - added it

Amanda ooh, i have this one- can't wait to read it


Alan I know, right? I had a lot of fun reading it aloud, too...


message 2: by Fran (new) - added it

Fran Friel Thanks, Alan. Added.


Alan Cool; hope ya like it!


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