Butterfly Winter

Hi all! I’m sorry for my extended break. I was busy with the holidays and then, this January, I’ve been doing the final edits for my friend Beaufield Berry’s first book: Childhood Friends. But all should be back on track now. Thank you for reading!

Butterfly Winter by W.P. Kinsella9781586422059

publication date: 2011
pages: 300
ISBN: 978-1-58642-205-9

W.P. Kinsella, probably most famous for writing Shoeless Joe – the inspiration for the movie Field of Dreams, wrote several books and stories that centered around baseball and magical realism. Butterfly Winter was just such a book, and was the last book he ever published.

The book introduced Julio and Esteban Pimental: twin brothers born in the fictional Latin American country of Courteguay. The boys were born playing baseball and quickly ascended the ranks and began playing professional ball in America at the age of ten. They went on to play for several successful years as their home country of Courteguay was consumed by human rights abuses that were put into place by a string of homegrown dictators.

Butterfly Winter exhibited a lot of what might be called “magical realism,” but was what I would call nonsense. Here’s an example of a story told about a baseball pitcher who carried around the arm of another pitcher, who had recently died:

What happened next, and this is a secret between us, resulted in Milan Garza’s finest year in the Major Leagues, the year he won thirty-five games.
“Milan Garza used to carry the arm in a tuba case. . . . Milan Garza told the Old Dictator that he pitched until he got tired, or was being hit too hard, then he let Barojas Garcia pitch for a while.”
“A portable relief pitcher?” asked Julio. . . . “Is that how it happened?” Julio asked.
“If it isn’t, it’s the way it should have happened,” said the Wizard.

Because the plot was so “magical,” nothing made sense. Magic and possibility were used to explain everything. For me, this meant the plot had no meaning, and I was rarely interested in the story or the characters. Here’s an example of the exaggerated characters:

Julio was walking by seven months, however Esteban remained stable in the catcher’s crouch until he was nearly three. . . . The women immediately fell in love with [Julio]. He would stare arrogantly at the prettiest female in the audience, tug suggestively at his diaper, then unleash a wild pitch into the crowd, aimed, usually with great accuracy, at the stuffiest looking male present.

This kind of writing style, while boring to me, might be interesting and fun to someone else. However, the biggest problem I had with the book was its treatment of dark-skinned people and Latin American history and government. Most of the characters were explicitly light-skinned, and here were the descriptions of the two most prominent dark-skinned characters in the book:

[Julio] picked a woman who, while not unattractive, was of a type not desirable to him. She was a black girl with a wild tumbleweed of hair. She wore a read skirt slit to the waist, and a turquoise blouse that showed off her sloping breasts. She was brazen, not very intelligent, and almost impossible to understand when she spoke.

I thought that was pretty bad but then there was this description of another character:

Dr. Noir wore a smart vizored military hat with gold braid and epaulets on his shoulders the size of giant hairbrushes. His cheeks were like black, pockmarked grapefruit halves, so black they might have been polished. A round surgical mask, white as an angel, covered his nose, hiding the huge, slug-like lips Quita knew well from photographs.

As I am quoting this passage I honestly cannot believe someone had the temerity to put those words to page. I was going to include another passage that denigrated Haiti, but I don’t want to read any more of this stuff.

So with that said:

2/6: many problems

other reviews:

The Globe and Mail
Magic Realism Blog
Quill & Quire

Calico Joe

Calico Joe by John Grisham

publication date: 2012
pages: 227
ISBN: 978-0-345-54133-8

This was my first John Grisham and it was about what I expected. The book very easily could have been converted into a 1980s flashback movie about kids a la Stand By Me. To illustrate my point, here is the beginning of chapter 2:

In the summer of 1973, the country was slowly emerging from the trauma of Vietnam. Spiro Agnew was in trouble and would eventually go down. Watergate was getting hot with much more to come. I was eleven years old and slightly aware of what was happening out there in the real world, but I was wonderfully unburdened by it. Baseball was my world, and little else mattered.

Can’t you imagine Patrick Dempsey’s voice intoning those words as the camera pans over rolling Arkansas hills just as the beginning credits are over?

As hinted at above, Calico Joe was baseball-centric, which I didn’t mind, and is, in fact, the reason I picked up the book. The baseball writing was often interesting but was sometimes completely unbelievable, although Grisham attempted to back up his characters’ athletic feats with statistics. The whole thing also got a little tedious, even though the book only weighed in at 227 pages. I felt like, if the baseball story was realistic, it would have made a better Grantland article than a Grisham novel.

Additionally, the book was formulaic, with characters only your dad could love, generic dialogue, and anachronistic asides that seemed to be pandering to the stereotype of a Grisham reader. For example, when the narrator meets his despised father’s latest wife, here are his observations:

It doesn’t take much to amuse Agnes, I decide after ten minutes. I wonder if it has crossed her mind that in virtually all polite circles she, as the hostess, is expected to offer me something to drink.

There were so many assumed values in those sentences! What’s wrong with being easily amused? And why couldn’t the father offer his son a drink? In fact, why do drinks need to be offered at all?! If being polite is offering my judgmental sons-in-law beverages, then you can shove your politeness!

With all that said and done, I was surprisingly moved by the ending. I guess that’s why Grisham is so good. He sets up characters, plots, places, and themes that tug at the heart strings just enough to provide a satisfying ending, but not too much as to actually be interesting.

3/6: more good than bad

other reviews of the book:

Los Angeles Times
Washington Post
The Oregonian