I have to start right out by saying that Butterfly Winter was a poor choice for me. W. P. Kinsella is beloved by many, and I know that people are excited that this is his first novel in fifteen years. However, I should have known better than to select a book by the “master of magical realism,” as one reviewer put it, because I have a problem with magical realism. It is a very tough sell for me. I have to be fully bought into the realism before I can accept the magic. In the case of this novel, though, I don’t even think it can be called magical realism, because the realism was left out.
This novel is about baseball. That shouldn’t be a problem, although I am not a sports fan. I was willing to be wooed by The Art of Fielding into at least grasping that it can be pretty fantastic. But Kinsella doesn’t try to convince us of that. He just posits that it is wonderful and magical and obviously thinks everyone should agree with him.
I think I could have dealt with either of these two issues, but the first chapter of this novel, where the Gringo Journalist is trying to interview the Wizard, and the Wizard refuses to answer his questions but goes off on a bunch of tangents, is the most annoying piece of writing I have ever read. The novel picks up a little in the second chapter when it changes to a narrative style and picks up again every time it returns to that style, but unfortunately the irritating voice from the first chapter is the novel’s primary narrator. The tone of the novel is arch, to me a little forced, and the humor unsubtle.
Now to the story. Julio and Esteban Pimenthal are twins who play baseball in their mother’s womb (a wince-inducing image). One of them is born with cleats on, and the other with a baseball glove. (I think it is safe to say that only a man would have thought of that.) They are inhabitants of Courteguay, a fictional country wedged between Haiti and the Dominican Republic where magic is commonplace. (Silly me, when I read “magical Caribbean island” in the blurb, I was thinking scenery and beauty.) When Julio and Esteban are ten years old, they travel to the United States to play pro ball. But first we hear about the Wizard and how he came to the island in the late 19th century and introduced baseball to it.
I have to admit, I did not finish this book. I’m sure that many will think it delightful, but I found the narrative style too annoying to continue. This novel was the wrong one for me to choose to become acquainted with Kinsella.