Quick. Finish the next sentence.
“If you build it …”
Yes, it’s a gimme. The rest of the sentence reads “… he will come.”
The line appears in the third paragraph of “Shoeless Joe,” the 1982 novel by W.P. Kinsella.
Seven years later, that book became a film that included some dialogue, such as the line quoted above, that has long since entered the American lexicon.
The “Field of Dreams” genesis story can be found in “The Essential W.P. Kinsella,” published in spring.
The collection includes many of Kinsella’s short stories, such as “Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa,” which inspired the novel. An essay by Kinsella, now 80, explains how that story became that novel’s first chapter.
Kinsella, a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, gives full credit to collaborators.
The short story first appeared in a 1979 anthology of Canadian writers. A publishing house editor, Larry Kessenich, read the story (or, Kinsella writes, not even the full story, but a review of that anthology) and contacted Kinsella, saying that if it was not a book, it should be.
The subsequent novel, in turn, became a film property ultimately claimed by screenwriter and director Phil Alden Robinson.
“I have been very lucky,” Kinsella said recently from his British Columbia home.
Is it still possible, a caller wondered, for him to be surprised by how entrenched his story has become?
The Dyersville, Iowa, farm on which much of the movie was filmed is a tourist destination.
Major League Baseball recently circulated video featuring contemporary players reciting lines from the soliloquy delivered in the film by actor James Earl Jones portraying fictional author Terence Mann. (You know the one: “People will come, Ray …”)
But Kinsella said he is not surprised. He described how, after having completed the second section of the novel, he found a spot at Black Butte Lake in Northern California and took out his manuscript.
“I read the section aloud, and I knew it was really good,” he said. “Nothing that happened after that really surprised me.”
Besides, he said, it seemed then that he had the baseball fiction niche all to himself.
“I hit on something that people were interested in and no one else was doing. It was a wide-open market. I was like a prospector finding a vein of gold, and I worked it for all it was worth.”
That seems harsh and doesn’t account for the experience of re-reading the 1982 novel, so often described as an example of “magical realism.”
The novel features 1960s survivor Ray, whom Kinsella juxtaposes with the apparent ghost of disgraced “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, notoriously reclusive author J.D. Salinger, obscure historical figure Archibald “Moonlight” Graham (who appeared in just one game in 1905) and Clifford Kachline, a National Baseball Hall of Fame historian.
Then Ray’s deceased father shows up as his much younger, baseball-playing self.
Kinsella writes in his essay how he received many letters from men describing how they had reconnected with their fathers after seeing the “Field of Dreams” movie, sometimes driving hundreds of miles to take them to a ball game.
However gratifying that result, I’ve long wondered if the book contained a larger, more urgent suggestion. And that was how the personal past remained retrievable, and that members of a sometimes self-satisfied generation like Ray’s could discover relevance in the struggles and achievements of family members who had come before them.
Pretty magical. So it’s jarring to hear Kinsella’s current regard for Major League Baseball, still sour after the 1994 players’ strike.
“The owners and players don’t care about fans,” he said. “It’s a group of billionaires and millionaires who have their own interests at heart, who claim they care about the fans but really don’t.”
Kinsella was not, however, immune to the magic made during the Kansas City Royals run to the World Series last fall
“I was thrilled that they made it,” he said.
For information about “The Essential W.P. Kinsella,” go to tachyonpublications.com/product/best-w-p-kinsella
Four writers will be featured Tuesday in the monthly Thomas Zvi Wilson Reading Series at Oak Park Library in Overland Park.
The program that includes writers Tina Hacker, Pat Daneman, Maryfrances Wagner and Daniel Ward begins at 6 p.m. at the Oak Park Library, 9500 Bluejacket St.