December 16, 2005

Book Club: The Iowa Baseball Confederacy

A couple weeks ago, my friend Carl over at FoolBlog posted a review of The Iowa Baseball Confederacy. I commented on the post, and then Carl e-mailed me for his opinion on the ending. In my reply, I suggested making this a blog-based discussion, and Carl replied with the ringing endorsement: "Hey, I'm desperate for content!" Thus inspired, we decided to go ahead with the plan. Carl posted his original question on his blog earlier this week, and I am now posting my reply, along with a new question to spark further discussion (placed below the fold because it contains spoilers; if you haven't read it yet, I encourage you to do so). I imagine Carl and I will continue this discussion at irregular intervals until we get tired of it or run out of things to say, so you can look forward to that.

Now, about your question... I'm glad you asked, because it made me go back and re-read the ending (along with skimming a number of other sections). I didn't read the ending the same way you did, and after looking it over again, I still don't (though your read is plausible).

Remember that just before he runs into the 1978 version of Drifting Away and Onamata, he's dancing with Missy and musing about he'd like to have that moment frozen in time. Drifting Away says, "Maybe I'll see you at the ballpark in Onamata," then thinks about it, then says, "After." Gideon replies, "Yes, after..." then pauses and says "Sarah."

You read this to mean that Drifting Away will let Gideon have Sarah back. I read it to mean that he'd be going back to a time "after Sarah," after The Flood. Big Inning, the Iowa Baseball Confederacy, and Sarah are all permanently lost. Of course, if this is true, I'm not sure why Gideon would want to go back to 1908.

Truth be told, until I re-read it, I didn't think Gideon was going anywhere. I believed that his trip back to 1908 represented a spiritual journey, in which he learned that clinging too tightly to a passion/obsession led to doom, while pursuing love and learning to be happy with what you have brought rewards (Stan, Drifting Away). For Gideon, Missy was love, and Sarah/Sunny and the IBC were obsessions. But if he's going to "take something with [him] this time," he's obviously going *somewhere.*

I still believe that Gideon can't go back to Sarah or to the game. I'd like to think that he understands this, though perhaps he doesn't (notice that he tried to save Sunny, even though she was obviously fated to die). Maybe he misunderstood Drifting Away's remark? Drifting Away assumed, when he saw Gideon and Missy looking happy, that Gideon's quest was also over. Maybe, though, Gideon doesn't think his quest is over yet. Maybe he's been searching so long that he doesn't know how to stop.

So now, a question for you, Carl, about the book's weaknesses. If I'm reading you correctly, it seems that you find the ending to be the book's greatest weakness. (If I'm wrong, please correct me.) Most of the book's critics, though, seem to take issue with the sprawling scope of the book. It's not often, after all, that you see, among other things, Teddy Roosevelt, Leonardo da Vinci, religious allegory, the struggle between white settlers and Native Americans, and - oh, by the way - an entirely fictional baseball league crammed into one book. Those who don't like the book tend to argue that Kinsella tried to take on too much, and as a result, the book wanders all over the place. I freely admit to a fondness for sprawling epics, so this didn't bother me. Did it bother you? I'll talk more about why I liked the spawl so much, as well as my opinion of the book's greatest weakness, next time.

Posted by Mediocre Fred at December 16, 2005 11:04 AM | TrackBack

Fred: I can't post a critique at this time, simply because it's been about five years since I last read the book, but it is absolutely my favorite baseball book ever. Weaknesses notwithstanding.

Posted by: Knuckles at December 16, 2005 03:40 PM


Thanks for writing in! I, too, love the book despite its weaknesses. Kinsella is a gifted and unique writer, and The Iowa Baseball Confederacy is my favorite of his books (better even than Shoeless Joe, which I love).

Posted by: Mediocre Fred at December 23, 2005 08:01 AM

I wonder if anyone will read this since this is an old post....

I have just finished the novel and it outdid any expectiations I possibly had for it, it was the last in a series that was given to me (Including "When a Caged Bird Sings" and "Huck Finn") and I must say it held its own, I loved the mystique about it.

I believe Gideon is indeed going back, he has nothing left in 1978 and he can delve into all kinds of baseball history in 1908. This may be a negative attitude to hold but I think Gideon is , in the modern vernacular, a player of sorts and Sarah was in essence just another of his targets. It will be after the flood, that is over.

I loved the pace at which the game progressed and how a common sense of reality slipped away day by day. Nothing made me happier than the image of the angel playing right field. I feel that there was a tension the whole book, awaiting the pedning orgy of mysticism, and the last ten days or so of the game resolved that tension beautifully. No one ending could have completely satisfied, but if you take the latter regions of the game as one it is quite a nice yarn.

That's my two cents...oh and I only found out with the bio info at the end of the book that Kinsella is Canadian, which made my little canuck heart proud.

Posted by: Michael at February 11, 2006 09:59 PM
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