Saturday, February 16, 2013

Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger

“Everyone has something worth it inside of them even if it doesn’t show. Sometimes you have to look a little harder than other times, but don’t give up. Otherwise, all your going to see is a sorehead who plays 3d base”

 It’s been a long time since I was moved by a book the way I was by Last Days of Summer and now I am afraid that what I read for the next while will fall tasteless and flat due to this experience.
      My friend Allison recommended the book as one of her favourites and, knowing her love for Americana and baseball, I had a slight inkling of what I was getting myself into.
         I wasn’t, however, prepared for the expert epistolary execution of the narrative or to be moved to tears ---in the midst of---and while laughing---hysterically at the antics of the irrepressible Joey Margolis and his unconventional friendship with his hero, 3rd baseman Charlie Banks.
         I finished the book last night ( I had been wanting to savour it, I didn’t want it to fly by so quickly), went back to the beginning and started again.
Not everyone could write this book. This book has spark and zest and zip and it just FEELS. SO. ALIVE.  What makes this book and its inherent voices spring to life are the slight idiosyncrasies, turns of phrase and even spelling and grammatical mistakes that fly between the smart aleck kid and his talented father-figure.
         Using ephemera (ticket stubs, report cards, telegrams and postcards), interview transcripts between Joey and his psychologist, letters on the presidential letterhead from FDR’s office  (Joey has a LOT to say about politics) and newspaper articles, the story unfolds and you are immediately plopped into the action: America on the brink of a war already in full swing on the other side of the world, a kid on the brink of adulthood sick of mourning his deadbeat father and a nation who is enraptured by baseball, by Hollywood, by larger-than-life heroes: abroad and on home soil. One of these heroes just happens to form and inseparable bond with a bullied kid in Brooklyn.
         Joey is far smarter than he should be and ---what is more--- he is cunning and manipulative, loves pranks and dirty jokes and naughty postcards, and just wants someone to look up to. Some attention. The only attention he gets in his anti-semitic neighbourhood finds kids cutting his cheek open with a coke bottle. You can’t help but feel that if these kids took the time to know Joey they would want to be him. Heck, I want to be him: he’s smart ( whip-smart) excels at everything, has a better handle on the New Deal than the state office does and has a knack of finding out information.
         While in Juvie for a stint, he writes Charlie Banks, 3rd baseman. He doesn’t want a t-shirt or an autograph, he wants a ball hit outta the park. At first he pleads with the case of imminent death by malaria, and then he is blind, and finally Charlie catches on. The canned responses he is so used to sending little fans won’t work with this gutsy kid.

         I am writing because me and the other boys are shoving out for Montazum and Tripoli and other palces where fighting is already fearce and we are not expected to come back alive. Anyway last night we were in our bunks wondering how many more sunsets we would get  to see, when all of a sudden the Sarge said “Gee, wouldn’t it be great if Charlie Banks could hit but one more before we go off to lay down our life?” ……..So I would appreciate if you would come to the plate sometime during Saturday’s game with Saint Louis and point to one of the outfields and say “This is for my friend Joey Margolis” (please do this on the radio” Then all you have to do is hit one over the wall. God Bless America”

         They banter, they argue, they write back. Sometimes Charlie’s girlfriend Hazel writes in, sometimes Stukey, another player from Charlie’s team.  Joey wants Charlie to come for dinner, Charlie says in your next lifetime, kids threaten Joey and Charlie is there, a baseball player, a god….those kids won’t beat up on Joey anymore.
         Joey wants to go on a road trip with Charlie.  Joey wants his father to be there for his bar mitzvah. In both cases, it is Charlie who comes through.
When Joey enters a  presidential essay contest on why his father should be the President of the United States, it is Charlie’s name and actions that grace the page, Charlie and Joey go to the White House.
         I could’ve read forever about their antics together. Their letters, their little quibbles, the postscripts in Charlie’s letters to Hazel when he mentions that he can’t believe, while watching Joey, how little he is: a little kid with a big, unfathomable brain, their Christmas cards, their funny names for each other. This book could’ve been eight times longer and that day-to-day correspondence would’ve had be laughing and crying simultaneously.
         Then Pearl Harbour happens and the world changes and Americans don’t need baseball heroes anymore, they need real heroes to fight in the Pacific arena.  Joey gets used to the fact that Charlie will be writing, not from the road, but from another country.
         Charlie once drafted a contract specific to their relationship, outlining his demands for their unlikely friendship. This contract, the war rippling through it, is forced to change.

         I love stories about makeshift families: through time, tide and circumstance, people finding each other and holding on for dear life. This speaks to two lonely people who both need some: a kid who needs a hero when his dad goes away, a hero who needs to influence someone in a more concrete way than hitting a ball out of a park.

         This is the kind of book that will appeal to many: to men, to women, to those who just like to snortle tea outta their mouths while reading…
         This is the kind of book that you borrow from the library (like me), get halfway through and add to your immediate amazon purchase list.  This is the kind of book that will rip your heart out and make you cry, but you’re so busy laughing that the noise emitting from your nose and mouth is like a stunted chuckle-chortle-sob.

I love this book. I love that Allison loves this book. I love that I understand her even more having read this book  ( that’s what favourite books do, kids, they allow you to steal into the recommending parties’ psyche and you’re given a slice into their brain for awhile), you will love this book.

Just go read this book. Everything will taste like flat coca cola for weeks after reading it ( it’s gonna for me) but golly! It was SO worth it.

And now, some quote spam because I am crying just thinking about all of this:

Your head and your heart are two different things. One of them can get you into trouble and the other one can’t. It’s okay to be scared when you can’t tell them apart. That happened to me every day of my life. But nobody ever saw it except you.”

“When you get famous or rich and maybe you thnk that you wish I was there to see it, remember that one way or the other I am”

p.s. There’s a nice nod (or two ) to David Copperfield
p.p.s This book should be a movie
p.p.p.s. Visit his website. he is the BEST 

1 comment:

Kailana said...

Wasn't this awesome??? I loved it!