Swing: A Novel by Philip Beard (Dystel & Goderich Literary Management, $14.95, 324 pages)
John Kosta befriends Henry Graham, even though it is more the other way around. Then, Henry’s sister, Ruthie, takes a liking to John as well. Next, Henry shows up at an awkward moment on New Year’s Eve, following the death of the Pittsburg Pirate’s great right fielder Roberto Clemente and, before you know it, you have the foundation for a novel. But, like all great novels that use baseball as a backdrop, Philip Beard’s third novel Swing is actually not about baseball.
John has no legs, and Henry is a 10-year-old boy trying to deal with his father’s need to move from one woman to the next through his love of baseball and the Pirates. Not coincidentally, both Henry’s father and John share in Henry’s passion. John serves to fill a void for Henry, establishing a relationship that takes the reader all the way to the final pages of the story.
Father-son, male-female, brother-sister, husband-wife, friend-friend, co-worker to co-worker – no relationship is without complication. This novel is as much about lost innocence and regret as it is about anything. And it is about continuing to find a way to move forward and live one’s life amid the inevitable disappointments and challenges that pop up.
Swing is reminiscent of a John Irving novel, with the obligatory oddball character(s), themes of missing fathers, and the characters’ obsessions with sex. In fact, while some Irving novels run too long, and while this reviewer prefers the condensed version in most cases, Beard could have provided us with more.
The novel shifts back and forth in time between Henry’s adult and childhood years. If somehow the author could have avoided this technique, it probably would have been an even stronger and more impactful story. That being said, it is well worth one’s time to read Swing. It is one of the better stories this reader-reviewer has encountered in a while.
A review copy was provided by the publisher. Dave Moyer is an educator, and the author of a book about baseball, love and Bob Dylan, Life and Life Only.