Shoeless Joe Summary

WP Kinsella

Shoeless Joe

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Shoeless Joe Summary

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Shoeless Joe, W.P. Kinsella’s novel about a son honoring his father’s legacy by building a baseball field, is perhaps best known as the source material for the blockbuster movie Field of Dreams.

The story begins in rural Iowa, where farmer Ray Kinsella lives with his wife, Annie, and their young daughter, Karin. Ray is obsessed with baseball, particularly the career of Shoeless Joe Jackson, an outfielder for the Chicago White Sox. In 1919, Jackson and other members of the team were accused of conspiring to fix the outcome of the World Series. Jackson protested his innocence, but he and the others were banned from Major League Baseball. Ray Kinsella’s own father, who is dead, was similarly obsessed with baseball and Shoeless Joe, and had himself been a semipro player. One night, as Ray is looking out at his farmland, he hears a voice say, “If you build it, he will come.” As the voice says this, Ray sees a baseball field emerge in his cornfield, and then disappear.

Ray tells Annie about the message—he thinks the voice wants him to build a baseball field. She encourages him to do so if it will make him happy, despite the fact that the farm is heavily in debt. Ray begins to build the field, beginning with left field, where Shoeless Joe played. One night, Annie sees a man wearing an old-fashioned baseball uniform in the field and tells Ray. Ray goes out to the field and speaks to the man, who he is shocked to realize is Shoeless Joe Jackson, a man who has been dead for years. Jackson asks Ray if he may return, and Ray agrees. Ray continues with the field, and as he completes each section, a new player from the ill-fated 1919 Chicago White Sox appears. Annie and Karin can now see the players as well. As the family watches a game, Ray hears the voice again. This time, it tells him to “ease his pain,” showing him a vision of the reclusive author J.D. Salinger.

Ray sets out to New Hampshire to find Salinger, to whom he feels a strange connection, as Salinger used the name of Ray’s twin brother—Richard Kinsella—in a short story. Ray finds Salinger’s house and attempts to convince him that a mysterious voice has sent him to help Salinger. Salinger assumes Ray’s a psychotic fan, but eventually agrees to accompany him to a Red Sox game. At the game, Salinger and Ray both experience a simultaneous vision, when the scoreboard flashes statistics about a forgotten baseball player named Archie “Moonlight” Graham” and the voice tells them to “Go the distance.” Salinger and Ray, now both believers, set off for Graham’s hometown of Chisholm, Minnesota. On their way, they stop at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. An archivist confirms that Graham was a fielder for one inning in a 1905 New York Giants game and tells them that he married a woman named Alicia in 1915. In Chisholm, the editor of the local newspaper fills in some blanks about Graham: he was a beloved town doctor who has been dearly missed since his death some years previous. Ray can’t sleep that night, and as he goes wandering through town, is transported back to 1955. Ray meets Dr. Graham, who tells Ray that he loves being a doctor, but would love to have held a bat in a major league game. The next morning, Salinger and Ray prepare to return to Iowa. On their way out of town, they pick up a hitchhiker, a teenage boy in a baseball uniform. He says his name is Archie Graham.

On their way through Iowa City, Ray stops to pick up Eddie Scissons, the oldest living former Cubs player, whom Ray had met years earlier. After some convincing, Eddie agrees to come along to Ray’s farm. When Ray returns home, he finds his brother, Richard, waiting there. Though Ray and Richard have not spoken in twenty years, the carnival Richard was working for just happened to stop nearby, and Richard decided to look Ray up. Annie approaches Ray and tells him that her brother, Mark, has been bothering her about selling Mark the farm. The next morning, Mark calls and pressures Ray to sell, increasing his offer. Mark informs Ray that he’s bought the farm’s mortgage, so if Ray doesn’t sell, the farm will be Mark’s in sixty days, anyway.

Karin tells Ray that the lights are on in the baseball field. Shoeless Joe welcomes Archie Graham onto the team. A new player, a catcher, appears. He is introduced by the announcer as Johnny Kinsella—Ray’s father. Salinger and Eddie watch the game in awe, but Richard cannot see the field. Mark arrives at the farm to speak to Ray, and eventually reveals that Eddie is a fraud who never played for the Cubs. It was this piece of blackmail that allowed Mark to buy Ray’s mortgage off of Eddie, who previously held it. Ray attempts to comfort Eddie, knowing the secret helped Eddie deal with his old age. The baseball field is now alight every night, and Richard begins to be able to see the field, though it is vague and scratchy. One night, the makeshift team plays against the Chicago Cubs, and the announcer calls Eddie to pitch. Eddie performs poorly, but the next night, he takes to the mound and delivers a speech on the beauty of baseball. Eddie privately urges Ray to speak to the younger version of his father, Johnny, and then goes to bed. The next morning, Eddie is found dead in his room, still in his uniform. His daughters come to take the body, honoring his wish to be buried in the uniform.

Mark returns with an order stating that if Ray can’t get his mortgage payments current in 72 hours, Mark will take ownership of the farm. Mark orders everyone off the field’s bleachers, and Ray threatens Mark with a gun. In the chaos, Karin slips on the bleachers and falls, hitting her head. Annie calls for an ambulance, but Archie Graham walks off the baseball field, transforming from the young player to the old doctor. Dr. Graham tends to Karin, extracting a bit of hot dog bun from her airway. Content that Karin will be fine, Dr. Graham disappears into the cornfield.

That night, Salinger tells Ray he’s had a dream. People will come to Ray’s farm by the thousands, drawn by an invisible, unknowable force. They will pay for privilege to sit on Ray’s bleachers and emerge renewed and full of peace. Ray instantly has a vision of cars with out of state plates lining up in his driveway, and knows he will be able to pay the mortgage. Later, Ray explains to Richard that the catcher is their father. The two brothers approach him, though Richard cannot see him well. They don’t reveal he’s their father, but instead simply talk.

One night, Shoeless Joe invites Salinger to join the players after the game, crossing through the centerfield fence. Ray is jealous and wonders why he, the creator of the field, isn’t invited. Salinger says there’s must be a higher reason, and reminds Ray of the blessed life he has with Karin and Annie. Would he give that all up to journey to the other side? Salinger promises Ray he will write about what’s behind the centerfield fence. He walks with Shoeless Joe through the fence and the field lights fade to black. Ray, Annie, and Karin walk back to the house, the baseball field illuminated by moonlight.