Saturday, December 24, 2011

Summerland—Michael Chabon

"Just because something is invisible and immaterial doesn't mean it isn't really there." (40)

I've actually read this book before. I try to read it once a year, although I have to admit, it's probably been about...two and a half years since my last reading. Knowing a bit about my ridiculous love for books, it should have an impact that I take time out from reading new books to read this old one. I love books by Michael Chabon in general. This is - as far as I know - his only children's book. (If you like this book and you're looking for something more adult - WAY more adult - you should read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Great book.)

I don't know a whole lot about baseball, but Chabon gracefully weaves the elements of baseball with pieces of American folklore into this story about a boy who has to try to prevent the Changer (or Coyote, as he's sometimes called) from ending the world as we know it.

Set in the fictional town of Clam Island, Washington (that's right, Washington State. What up?!), we encounter Ethan Feld, who is possibly the most devastatingly horrible baseball player in the history of the game. He moved to Clam Island with his father, who is working on revolutionizing the dirigible field, after his mom died of cancer. He mostly continues to play baseball because he knows it makes his dad happy. We also meet his best friend, Jennifer T. Rideout, who is actually a phenomenal ball player. They are joined in their adventure by Thor Wignutt, a boy acting like a robot attempting to be a boy, who has always seemed oddly out of place.

They are recruited by a "hero finder" who recruits Ethan to help prevent the end of the world. A ferisher explains to Ethan that the "world" is actually separated into four worlds, which are connected because they are actually four branches of the same tree. The ferisher elaborates that certain kinds of people can "scamper" from world to world. An oracular clam predicts that Feld will have the answer. Little do they all know, the Feld to which the clam refers is actually Ethan's dad. His father is kidnapped by Coyote, who wants to use him in order to help hasten the end of the world so that he can start over. Ethan must work together with his friends, the ferisher, and other folklore-ish creates to try and prevent the end of the world. Part of his journey through the Summerlands (one of the four worlds" formed by the great tree") is getting past particular obstacles by playing baseball, which seems to have some sort of mythical control over the creatures there. The question Ethan asks is: if I can't even play baseball, how am I going to save the world?

I've read this book before, and I'll read it again. As much as I am not particularly eloquent at explaining the plotline (it's really not as confusing as it sounds), I love this book and the beautiful worlds that Chabon creates, especially using themes and characters which are common to our American heritage. The adventure he takes us on with Ethan, Jennifer T.,, Thor, Cinquefoil (ferisher), Taffy (Sasquatch), and Skid (car-cum-dirigible) is a magical dirigible ride not to be missed.