WP Kinsella, If Wishes Were Horses

How could If Wishes Were Horses miss? W.P. Kinsella's collected works include both clunkers and hits, but the two novels for which some of his readers actually venerate him (rather than simply appreciate him) are The Iowa Baseball Confederacy, featuring Gideon Clarke, and Shoeless Joe, featuring Ray Kinsella, which you may - and should - also know as Field of Dreams, starring the then-ascendant Kevin Costner, who may never have been better.

Because If Wishes Were Horses brings together Ray Kinsella and Gideon Clarke in the same volume, and lets them both talk at length, without interruption, with each chapter entirely narrated by only one character. If the first two novels were as character-driven as most of us thought they were, then this novel would be wonderful.

Basically, Ray and Gideon come together to ponder and help solve the unlikely, improbable, and impossible events occurring in the life (or possibly lives) of Iowa-born Joe McCoy, a retired pro baseball player on the run after apparently kidnapping a child and committing numerous other crimes - except that it didn't quite happen that way, and for some reason nobody wants to actually arrest the guy. McCoy means well, always, and he lives a small life with at best small victories, so we're meant to see in him our own weaknesses (and our own strengths in Kinsella and Clarke, vindicated in the earlier novels).

It's a brilliant idea, and the set-up is terrific. I bought into the characters (OK, the male characters - the female ones, Kinsella has always kind of struggled with), and I appreciated how he handled questions of setting.

But I'm glad I read enough to be glad of partial successes. I couldn't stay excited about this book, and the big plot twist explaining McCoy's increasingly improbable existence ... well, let's just say that the original version of The Abyss came to mind for me. I mean, honestly. Dude. It's a novel: there's no reason not to give us the director's-cut DVD up front, with all the good stuff left in.

Lots of sweetness in this novel, but for me, not enough of anything else.


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