Book Review: Summerland by Michael Chabon

Michael Chabon, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, presents a very different face in Summerland. Summerland is a fairy tale for children over the age of 10.

The story is set in a fantastical setting of Chabon’s invention derived from Norse mythology, some Christian mythology and his own imagination.

The story is about, in it’s own little way, baseball. Not the game, but the meaning behind the game. Summerland is the place where everything of any value centers around the game. Where there is always someone who wants to play the game. Where matters of importance, including whether the Universe will end hinge on the swing of a bat. But that inspite of the importance of the game, the joy of the game must never be lost.

As an embittered fan of the game, embittered by the lockout, the strike, the drugs, and the general callousness of the athletes and owners, Summerland reminded me what I loved about baseball.

As for the book itself, the central figure is a 10 year old boy named Ethan that must learn to embrace the pain in his life to save the Universe. The pain as a metaphor is a knot in the perfect baseball bat. A knot that prevents him from holding the bat. During the book he tries to ignore the pain the knot causes, to cut the knot, to give up on the bat, but it’s only when he embraces the pain the knot causes that he is able to swing the bat and hit the game winning home run. In other words, to become the hero that he is supposed to be.

Along the way, we meet some rather fun characters. There is the giant who is shorter than Ethan. There is the scientist so obsessed with the problem in front of him that he becomes a Flat Person, a completely empty person. A person who cares only about the problem to be solved not the consequences of solving the problem. There is the land of Liars, the legendary home of folks like Paul Bunyan. And there is the sasquatch who is looking for her children.

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