Friday, May 30, 2008

More Steve Kluger goodness!

Shortly after I finished Almost Like Being in Love, I re-read Steve Kluger's first novel, which I read at the beginning of last summer. Last Days of Summer is, like its successor, written in the epistolary format, told through letters, matchbook covers, Western Union telegrams, and newspaper articles.

The novel begins in 1940. The New York Giants are playing at the Polo Grounds. Hitler's power is rising in Germany. And Joey Margolis, a twelve-year-old Jewish boy, moves to an Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn after his parents' divorce. He lives in an apartment with his mother and Aunt Carrie. He and his best friend, a twelve-year-old Japanese boy named Craig Nakamura, are subject to many beatings from the neighborhood kids. Joey's father won't spend time with his son, but has plenty of time to take his new wife to Monte Carlo. The lack of attention from his father is what leads Joey to "a life of crime," at one point resulting in a stay in Juvenile Hall after urinating in the Central Park reservoir.

Joey starts to search for a father figure, and finds one in the temperamental, hard-living, fast-talking third baseman for the Giants, Charlie Banks. He starts writing letters to Charlie, claiming a variety of diseases such as malaria, in order to get his attention. Charlie doesn't fall for this, yet he still responds to Joey's letters. In spite of the rocky start, the two eventually develop a warm relationship. One summer, Joey becomes the bat boy for the Giants. Charlie stands up for Joey at his bar mitzvah when his biological father won't. Joey even helps Charlie romance one of the most popular female singers of the time, Hazel MacKay.

Under Charlie's guidance, Joey matures. He gradually stops getting into trouble, and learns to stand up for himself. Joey is still troubled, however, by some other issues of the day, namely the beginnings of World War II. And two thirds of the way into the novel, the war plays a crucial role.

If anyone has ever had a surrogate parent in their lives, or any other adult that they otherwise looked up to during their youth, Last Days of Summer is the perfect novel. If anything, I loved this novel for the clever storytelling. I really admire Steve Kluger's creativity in the epistolary novel--and that alone is reason enough to read it.

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