The Short Version: Kevin Guilfoile discovers that Roberto Clemente’s 3,000th hit bat might not be in the Baseball Hall of Fame… but might in fact have been hanging on his bedroom wall since he was a little kid. With his father suffering from Alzheimer’s, he sets off to figure out the truth.
The Review: The book isn’t all that long and, honestly, there isn’t all that much to say about it. Or, there are plenty of things to say – but few of them are about the book itself.
Let’s begin with how I got this book in the first place. If you’ve never heard of Field Notes Brand, you deserve to check them out: they make fantastic little notebooks and I use them for just about everything. Including keeping track of what I want to read. And this season, as a part of their Colors subscription package, they included the kickoff of their brand new endeavor: Field Notes Brand Books.
The second non-book thing to speak of is that I’ve surprisingly never read anything by Kevin Guilfoile before. Not even short fiction. He’s one of the gentlemen behind The Morning News’ Tournament of Books and so I know him from there… but both of his novels sound so damn intriguing, I’m hard pressed to figure out how it is I haven’t read them yet. His writing in this short novella (which is, let’s be honest, what this book actually is) is recommendation enough to go and by them asap.
Okay, now down to the nitty gritty. This is a baseball story, a mystery, and a father/son thing all wrapped up into 70 little pages. It’s a “true tale, well told” as the slogan on the banner goes. Kevin’s father (now suffering from Alzheimer’s) was a major figure in Major League Baseball – working for the Yankees, the Pirates, and eventually the Hall of Fame. Hearing stories about how young Kevin encountered all of these famous individuals and didn’t really bat an eye… it’s kind of awesome. Stories about how Marilyn Monroe (when she was with Joe D.) did the dishes at the sink in his house – and how that just about knocked his socks off – are the kind of thing that you can never really put into words because the truth is always stranger than fiction. How can you tell such stories, such anecdotes, and make them seem realistic? It’s a hard thing to do – and Guilfoile does it well. He talks with such ease about having received Clemente’s bat and having met all of these various people… even when he’s recounting someone else’s story (I’m specifically thinking of the Super 8 film from that day), it feels like he’s just simply telling you the story and you really have no choice but to believe it, even though it’s one of those damn crazy things that you think can’t actually possibly be true.
I won’t spoil anything – but I will say that I thought the book could’ve used a bit more heft. At under 70 pages, a true novella, it feels much more like a test run. It feels like an exercise, too. Guilfoile writes a personal story that he’s had on his mind – but something that doesn’t take a whole lot of effort, compared to writing a novel. Meanwhile, Field Notes says “we want to start publishing” and so they take this on to see how it goes. And I think, in both instances, it’s been a smashing success – but the only failure is that there isn’t more to it. It all feels slight – I polished off the book in (all told) less than 45 minutes. Take that as you will, I suppose.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5. It’s difficult to rate something so short, to be honest. In this circumstance, I’m going to go ahead and say that I’m rating the whole endeavor instead of just this particular story. If you like family stories and baseball stories, read this – perhaps right after The Art of Fielding or Shoeless Joe or something, as a sort of coda. If not, don’t rush out to get it – but it’s a nice little diversion, that’s for sure. And I certainly hope Field Notes continues to put out books – even if they are tiny little novellas like this one. The world needs more small presses who care about the true tales well told. I just re-upped my Colors subscription, so here’s hoping.