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  • The Essential W. P. Kinsella by W. P. Kinsella
  • William Steele
W. P. Kinsella The Essential W. P. Kinsella. San Francisco: Tachyon, 2015. 423 pp. Paperback, $15.95.

After publishing his first collection of short stories in 1977, Canadian writer W. P. Kinsella has since released fifteen volumes of short fiction, seven novels, and two collections of poetry. For the first time, however, he has compiled an all-star lineup of his most memorable works, including one original piece, “Do Not Abandon Me,” and some previously published but uncollected stories from recent years.

Reading The Essential W. P. Kinsella is like rekindling a friendship after several years away. Though his most recent novel, Butterfly Winter, was released in 2011, it has been fifteen years since his last collection of short fiction was published. For his longtime fans, this collection is a reminder of his strength as a storyteller, his sharp wit and satiric observations, and his characters whom the readers come to recognize as people they’ve known for years. And for those readers who are new to Kinsella’s fiction or who may only know his baseball novels such as Shoeless Joe and The Iowa Baseball Confederacy, these stories will introduce them to the Silas Ermineskin narratives from the Hobbema Reservation in Alberta, Canada; his short vignettes written in the style of his favorite author, Richard Brautigan; and his baseball stories that were not used as chapters of his later novels.

Published in time for his eightieth birthday, the collection is an interesting retrospective of Kinsella’s most popular stories, such as “Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa,” and some of his lesser-known works. And while this collection offers very little new material, it does remind readers of his abilities to speak through a Cree Indian’s voice and to incorporate magic realism in his baseball narratives, both trademarks of his earlier collections. For those who are only familiar with his novels, many of the baseball pieces will strike a familiar chord, as he wove them into the plotlines of some of his baseball novels. [End Page 191]

Though many readers may expect Kinsella to only write about either baseball or Cree Indians, some selections included here show his ability to throw an occasional curveball. “Do Not Abandon Me” examines a woman who is ready to leave her husband but finds herself torn between the safety of her predictable relationship and the excitement of an affair with a far more mysterious and world-traveled antiques dealer. “The Last Surviving Member of the Japanese Victory Society” is a touching love story that bridges two different cultures, allowing the narrator to find both love and happiness after a lifetime of being deprived of both. Dedicated to his wife Barbara, who passed away on Christmas Eve 2012, the story is a reminder of Kinsella’s knack for writing a story in a way that causes readers to empathize with the character, longing to know what happens after the story ends.

Some stories in the anthology are among the author’s favorites, including “First Names and Empty Pockets,” a piece Kinsella has often said is the best short story he has ever written. The story is told through the voice of a man who developed a relationship with Janis Joplin and is able to save her from dying at age twenty-seven, helping her realize her full potential as an artist. In “How I Got My Nickname,” the narrator, also named W. P. Kinsella, gets a chance to play for the 1951 New York Giants, hitting .333 before helping set up Bobby Thomson’s famous “shot heard round the world.” In both cases, Kinsella’s unique style of blending fact and fantasy together brings to mind his baseball novels that are known for the magic realism that drives them.

The book concludes with a brief essay from Kinsella himself, “Where It All Began: Shoeless Joe,” in which he recalls the progression from the short story “Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa” to the novel Shoeless Joe to the 1989 film Field of Dreams. Though this story, novel, and film are the works that made Kinsella an international name, this collection...