November 21, 2008
Last Days of Summer
Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger
Contemporary Fiction - Epistolary
1998 Bard (Avon Books)
Finished on 11/12/08
Rating: 4.75/5 (Terrific!)
Mixing nostalgia, baseball and a boy's mostly epistolary friendship with a 1940s baseball star, this inventive but sentimental novel consists entirely of letters, fictional newspaper clippings, telegrams, war dispatches, report cards and other documentary fragments. Growing up Jewish in a tough, Italian Brooklyn neighborhood, Joey Margolis is troubled by anti-Semitic neighbors, by Hitler's rising power, by his parents' divorce and by his absent cad of a father. Craving a surrogate dad, Joey strikes up a correspondence with Wisconsin-born New York Giants slugger Charlie Banks. The boy's outrageous fibs, tough-guy posturing and desperate pleas grab the reluctant attention of the superstar, whose racy vernacular guy-talk (peppered with amusing misspellings and misusages) hints at his deepening affection for Joey. Charlie is a politically enlightened proletarian ballplayer with a heart of gold. His liberal views find an echo in Joey, whose best friend, Japanese-American Craig Nakamura, gets shipped off with his family to a wartime internment camp. In a plot that swerves from Joey's Bar Mitzvah to a White House meeting with President Roosevelt to [spoiler deleted], Kluger keeps changing the pace and piles on a slew of period references with a heavy hand. Despite these flaws, this debut novel is at its best a poignant, golden evocation of one boy's lost innocence.
May 15, 1940
New York Giants
Polo Grounds, New York
Dear Mr. Banks:
I am a 12–year–old boy and I am dying from malaria. Please hit a home run for me because I don't think I will be around much longer.
Last week it was the plague. Now it's malaria. What do I look – stupid to you? You're lucky I don't send somebody over there to tap you on the conk. I am enclosing 1 last picture. Do not write to me again.
Nobody asked for your damn picture. I never even heard of you before. And you can forget about the home run too. The only reason I needed one was because the bullies who keep beating me up somehow thought you were my best friend and the homer was supposed to keep them from slugging me anymore. Thanks for nothing.
Can I go on a road trip with you?
Your arch enemy,
"Somehow" they thought I was your best friend? Where did they hear that from? A Nazi spy? J. Herbert Hoover? Franklin Delano Biscuithead? And didn't I tell you not to write to me anymore? Go bug DiMaggio.
P.S. And just because there's a spot open for a bat boy this summer doesn't mean your going to get it. Even if we ARE chips off the same block.
I've had this book on my shelf for nearly a decade! I know at one point I read a dozen or so pages, but couldn't get interested. Usually, I'd give up at that point, but I remembered my boss at Borders Books saying it was a great read, so I set it aside for another time. As I was putting together a list for my epistolary endcap, I remembered this book and decided to give it another chance, especially since I don't like to have any books on the endcap that I haven't read. Well, just as with the first attempt, I had a bit of a slow start with Last Days of Summer, but once I got a couple of dozen pages in, I was hooked.
Of course this shouldn't have surprised me, as I love baseball, books set during World War II, epistolary books and coming-of-age stories.
I laughed out loud and I cried.
I hugged the book to my chest when I finished and whispered, "Great book!"
I thought about various actors, wishing this were a movie as well as a book.
I'll read it again and recommend it to everyone.
Yep, great book.
Dear Mr. Kluger,
You scored a home run with this marvelous book. I fell in love with Joey, Charlie, Hazel and Stuke and was sorry when I came to the last page. Thank goodness you have another epistolary work for me to read!
Thanks for the laughs.
A happy reader in Nebraska.