In and of itself, the epistolary novel is nothing new; indeed, Ring Lardner wrote You Know Me Al, his classic diamond saga, as a series of letters home from fictional White Sox hurler Jack Keefe more than 80 years ago. With Last Days of Summer, Kluger has virtually reinvented the genre in his picaresque coming-of-age fable of future sportswriter Joey Margolis and his improbable relationship with Giants rookie sensation, Charlie Banks.
The place is Brooklyn, the time is the early '40s, and young baseball fanatic Joey needs a hero badly in his life. How that hero becomes Charlie--and ultimately Joey himself--forms the dimensions of the novel's field, but it's the way the game is played that's so remarkable. The story's told not through conventional narrative but by way of Joey's abstract scrapbook: letters, postcards, news clippings, box scores, report cards, matchbook covers, dispatches from FDR, telegrams, even an invitation to Joey's own Bar Mitzvah and the gift list from the affair.
Delightful throughout, Summer develops a deeper traction when Charlie goes off to war, then turns poignant in its seemingly preordained aftermath. It is a triumph of style, to be sure, but a triumph of style without loss of substance. --Jeff Silverman