Spirits in the Grass
Winner, General Fiction Category, 2008 Midwest Book Award
Finalist in ForeWord Magazine’s 2008 Book of the Year Award for General Fiction
In Spirits in the Grass we meet Luke Tanner, a thirty-something baseball player helping to build a new baseball field in his beloved hometown of Clearwater, Wisconsin. Luke looks forward to trying out for the local amateur team as soon as possible. His chance discovery of a small bone fragment on the field sets in motion a series of events and discoveries that will involve his neighbors, local politicians, and the nearby Native American reservation. Luke’s life, most of all, will be transformed. His growing obsession with the ball field and what’s beneath it threatens his still fragile relationship with his partner, Louise, and challenges Luke’s assumptions about everyone, especially himself.
In this beautiful and haunting novel, baseball serves as a metaphor for life itself, with its losses and defeats, its glories and triumphs.
Bill Meissner has won numerous awards for his writing, including PEN/NEA Syndicated Fiction Awards. He is the author of two previous books of fiction, Hitting into the Wind and The Road to Cosmos (University of Notre Dame Press, 2006) and four books of poetry, including American Compass (University of Notre Dame Press, 2004). He is Director of Creative Writing at St. Cloud State University. He grew up in Iowa and Wisconsin, and lives with his wife Chris in St. Cloud, Minnesota, where he plays baseball occasionally with a group called The Catch and Release Baseball Club.
ADVANCE PRAISE “Meissner has the storyteller’s gift for creative living characters, living speech, living emotions, living drama. He knows his small town baseball, but beyond that, he knows the human spirit.” —Tim O’Brien, author of The Things They Carried
“In Spirits in the Grass, Meissner explores the hidden heart of America’s Midwest—scratching hard at his character’s dreams to release their nightmares, their truths. His words are supple as grass, his language a graceful dance that is a pure joy to read.” —Susan Power, author of The Grass Dancer
“This novel is a rare achievement, an extraordinary story of a man’s desire to resurrect his past, to redeem and restore the world he knew as a boy, while he confronts the crimes around him. Juxtaposing baseball, Native American history and religion, and small town life, Meissner has created a genuine original.” —Jonis Agee, University of Nebraska, author of South of Resurrection and The River Wife
“Bill Meissner’s Spirits in the Grass is nothing short of stunning, his mastery of the prose is evident in virtually every sentence as it intensifies and heightens the intrigue of the wonderful story being told. This is a vibrant and original novel, a triumph, and Meissner’s linguistic veracity places him among the finest prose stylists writing today.” — Jack Driscoll, author of How Like an Angel
“In Spirits in the Grass [Meissner] has linked personal and racial history and identity, intimate drama and outright mystery, and the awakening of romance and self-awareness. That’s a lot to bring together. . . . But while the mayor flails around . . . and Luke learns something about himself, and the town of Clearwater comes to terms with its shady past and uncertain future, the spirits in the grass rise and assemble, murmuring a truth impervious to villainy, easy psychological insight, and cliché.” — Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Novels about baseball or small-town life often fall prey to a too-easy sentimentality and a tendency toward soft-focus prose. Meissner tackles both these topics but, remarkably, avoids both flaws. . . . [He] handles all his story lines — the centerfielder manqué, the ‘spirits in the grass,’ the troubled romance, the fight with city hall — with admirable subtlety, sidestepping the multiple clichés that can so easily attach themselves to all of these themes. This is a quiet novel but an emotionally powerful one, rich with ambiguity and with the scent of felt life.” — starred review in Booklist
“An accomplished literary writer crafts a resonant Midwest baseball novel. . . . Meissner has a gift for creating real people on the page.” — Seattle Post-Intelligencer
“Part baseball book, part mystery, part love story, part search for identity, and part social battle between small-minded townspeople and American Indians, this book leads the reader on a complex journey that begins with baseball and ends with spirituality.” — Lacrosse Tribune
“Spirits in the Grass delves into the cultural tension between Native Americans and Caucasians and seeks to expose the ugliness of racism and the violent aftermath such racial hatred can leave in its wake. Meissner’s creativity with words delights the senses and brings to life the book’s small-town, Midwestern setting.” — Minnesota Literature Newsletter
“Spirits in the Grass rings true with small-town Midwestern values. It is a beautiful and haunting novel where baseball serves as a metaphor for life itself, with its losses and defeats, its glories and triumphs.” — The Algona Upper Desmoines
“It’s a mistake to think Spirits in the Grass is just about baseball, unless, of course, you’re talking about baseball as a larger metaphor for the way we live our lives. It is the beautifully told story of a young man trying to recapture old dreams, discover who he is historically, psychologically and philosophically, come to terms with relationships old and new, and seek justice.” — Armchair Interviews
“Spirits in the Grass is part mystery and part romance, but mostly, it is the story of life’s ebb and flow in a small Midwestern town and of one man’s place in it. Meissner’s evocative description and strong characterization bring the story to life for the reader.” — Multicultural Review
“Mystery, love, baseball, small town life, loss . . . These are some of the themes of Bill Meissner’s novel Spirits in the Grass . . . Meissner does a terrific job of producing an interesting, emotional and well-written novel.” — Aitkin Independent Age
“By giving Luke a delayed bildungsroman narrative, designing his character around transitional values, and seeking to show how baseball can serve as the center of small-town culture, Meissner takes his book to deeper levels by plugging into the well-established baseball fiction formula first used by Noah Brooks almost 125 years earlier in Our Base Ball Club and How It Won the Championship.” — Nine: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture