LAST DAYS OF SUMMER
by Steve Kluger
Reviewed by Sue Feder
Sometimes it is fate or luck which places a book into your hands. How else to account for a year-old edition of a two-year-old book shelved in a section of the bookstore I don't normally browse ending up in mine? A mention of Coney Island on the cover, a first sentence that sounded like the beginning of a love letter to Brooklyn, USA, and I was hooked. But I had no idea what a true treasure I had just found.
At its core, this is a simple tale of a boy and a man whose paths meet and merge, to the betterment of both. But it is so much more: it is a tribute to baseball, Broadway, babes, the boys in the Service -- and, yes, Brooklyn. It is a paean to all that is right and good about people: friendship, loyalty, bravery, decency, honor, commitment, and love.
Precocious twelve-year-old Joey Margolis, a Brooklyn Jew in a largely Italian neighborhood in the early 1940s, is sorely in need of a protector -- a big brother, a father figure. Charlie Banks, a mid-western Protestant, is a hot-tempered, immensely talented rookie third baseman for the NY Giants and sorely in need of a conscience that includes more than his skills with bat and glove. They tell their tale in a series of letters, newspaper clippings, box scores and matchbook covers, an interesting and entirely successful technique for a writer whose prior work includes a number of screen, stage and teleplays. It is also not surprising that much of Kluger's other work revolves around baseball, Broadway, the boys in the Service -- and, yes, Brooklyn. He clearly loves the stuff.
It is a kind and gentle tale of a time that may not have been much simpler or more innocent but was certainly, well, kinder and gentler. I laughed and cried, often on the same page, sometimes at the same time, as the two different temperaments, cultures and faiths clash with and ultimately absorb each other.
Joey, Charlie, the women who love them, the teacher and principal who fear them, the rabbi who worries for them, and the President and First Lady who respect them, leap into the mind, heart and soul never looking back, and setting up permanent residence.
Run, do not walk, to your nearest bookseller and get a copy of this book. No -- get two, one for yourself and one for someone you love.