Monday, February 14, 2011

Home, Away by Jeff Gillenkirk

Jeff Gillenkirk takes the classic saga of a father's love for his son and updates it with a major league baseball setting in Home, Away. It's a pretty straightforward tale - young father who desperately loves his son gets caught in the mother of all custody battles and finds himself forced to prove, among other things, that he is not abusive (proving a negative is always fun) and ends up losing very nearly everything. Then, just as Jason claws his way to the top of the pack (and a huge contract with the Colorado Rockies), his son shows up in trouble and he has to make a choice about how to save him - and then the long hard road to fixing their relationship begins.

I almost want to say it's On Golden Pond without the Fondas or Katharine Hepburn or the pond but plus a ton of baseball and that same touching scene between Henry & Jane Fonda (minus the Fondas again). But that's too complicated. How about Jim Bouton's Ball Four with a lot more heart (and maybe a tear or two)? Mostly, Home, Away is a baseball book and although you don't need to love baseball to enjoy the father/son story, you will enjoy it that much more if you do. While there are a lot of novels about baseball (W.P. Kinsella's Shoeless Joe remains one of my all time favorites and is even better than Field of Dreams - my all time favorite baseball movie), there are not a lot of good novels about baseball. Gillenkirk walks a fine line here by keeping the sport essential to his story but not letting it overwhelm and not letting the game become more important than Jason and Rafe. Who they are and how they find themselves apart and then choose to come back together is what matters most. That's the way it should be, of course but you don't see such honesty in most books about fathers and sons - mostly because we've just gotten used to not expecting it in our real life relationships. (Google "best father son movies" and you will be surprised by how many of them are cartoons. Who knew The Lion King and Finding Nemo were what we are supposed to aspire to?)

Home, Away doesn't take shortcuts while showing just how complicated this one particular aspect of familial relationships can be. The fact that Gillenkirk tells his tale with baseball as the backdrop just makes it that more of an enjoyable read and a solid fit for sports lovers who will likely be surprised by how quickly they get caught up in Jason (and Rafe's) story.

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