Last Days of Summer tells the story of Joey Margolis - a young boy growing up in Brooklyn in the 1940's. A boy, who rarely, if ever sees his father. Joey decides he's going to write (maybe harass would be a better word) Charlie Banks - the third baseman for the New York Giants. Charlie doesn't exactly welcome the attention (at first) but Joey is nothing if not persistent.
This (like Almost Like Being in Love) is an epistolary novel. Told in the form of letters, transcripts, notes and school reports. Before I read ALBiL and The Color Purple, I never thought I'd enjoy this kind of story. I think it has its pros and cons. On the one hand you get to see a very personal side of the characters that you may not otherwise have, but on the other there are things that you miss out on seeing because the book doesn't have a conventional narrative. For example I would have liked to experience the first meeting with Charlie firsthand rather than through interview, but we don't get to do that.
I think what made the book especially poignant for me is the Authors Note at the end of the story (which I did read before beginning). And I think in a way that does play a little bit at the back of your mind and because of this you pay more attention to the relationship between 'fathers' and 'sons' in the story.
Whether you like the novel or not, will probably depend on your feelings about the character of Joey - I loved him. Charlie is not so enamoured of him at first:-
"You are beginning to make a mess out of my life."Joey really gets under his skin - like a tick. I think that the point I started to fall in love with the book was on p.88 when Charlie sets some boundaries on their friendship. I especially liked rule number 9
9. You will alawys remember that you are probably somebody very special. I do not know this for a fact yet...I like how these rules keep cropping up throughout the story, and get adapted as circumstances change.
If I had to pick two letters as my favourites. One would be where Charlie tries to answer some of Joey's big questions. And the other would be where Charlie gives Joey advice about women.
The writing is beautiful. There are so many bits that I could just quote, because I want to share them. The friendship that develops between them and how they stand up for each other is just wonderful to read. I think Joey initially sees Charlie as something of a challenge but eventually they become friends. For Joey, Charlie becomes the father he doesn't have. However, America is about to be pulled into World War 2 - which of course we as readers know, but the characters don't. So there is a sense of time running out, history moves on, no matter what. And eventually it catches up with them - Joey's Japanese friend Craig is sent to an internment camp, Charlie enlists and there is a sense of seriousness that wasn't there before.
"Joey listen to me. Everybody gets handed a rotten deal sooner or later and your just getting it out of the way early."If I had any problems with the story, it would be the baseball references. Being in the UK I don't really understand them. I have a vague understanding of how the game of baseball works but not enough to decipher the few commentaries and stats sheets. However, I don't think it's necessary to be a baseball afficionado to enjoy the story. It's the relationships between all the characters that make the story work.
I would hightly recommend this story. It's funny and sad and touching and heartbreaking. I've always been of the opinion that if a story can make you really laugh or cry then it's on another level. It has really touched you and that's a rare thing.