Sunday, April 5, 2009

Book Review: "Spirits in the Grass"

I know what you're thinking: Another book review? Already? Didn't you just do one? Well, yeah, but I wanted to get this one finished before the baseball season started (very, very soon...yay!). Because once there are baseball games to watch, there's very little time for reading. So, here we go....

Blogger's Note: The author of this book was my Creative Writing professor at St. Cloud State back in the '80s (wow, that long ago?). I haven't had any contact with him since I graduated, and I doubt he would even remember me, so I'm confident I can offer an unbiased opinion on his book. Although it is a little weird to critique work of someone who taught me, but I can get over it.

Bill Meissner. Spirits in the Grass. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2008, 288 pp., $25.00

I was interested in this novel because, well, it had a baseball player on the cover. It's about a small-town Wisconsin man who dreams of building a baseball field and resurrecting his baseball playing career, while struggling to understand and appreciate his past and future. The story uses themes of small-town life, Native American history, and baseball to explore the characters and their lives.

This is a good story, excellently told. The main characters are well-developed and interesting, and the events are described brilliantly. He paints fascinating scenes with rich details, and I was moved by the characters' struggles and triumphs.

I would say that it would make a nice made-for-television movie, but I don't want to make it seem that the story is shallow -- it's not. The ending is a bit predictable, but for this book, that's ok. For the most part, the characters are interesting and complex. However, the ancillary characters and the descriptions of some of the small-town landmarks are a little stereotyped.

There was one inconsistency that I should have been able to overlook, but for some reason, it distracted me. The beginning of the story takes place in late March, and the main character is preparing the empty field to lay sod. Isn't the ground still too cold to lay sod in Wisconsin in March? I know it's minor -- I should suspend my disbelief. It's not all that material to the story, but it bothered me. Also, another eensy little thing bothered me -- one of the characters had a dog named Dutchess. Now I know that a man can name his dog anything he wants to, but it's usually spelled Duchess*.

Aside from those small gripes, I thought it was a good book -- easy to get into and easy to keep reading. I recommend it. I'll give it an A-.

* Yeah, Fergie the singer spelled it wrong on her album, but she did it on purpose -- I suppose so she could remind people of, but also be different from, Fergie the duchess.

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