Book Review: Home, Away

Book Review: Home, Away

I’m still relatively new to this whole blogging thing, so I was a little bit surprised when I got an email from a representative of Chin Music Press asking if I’d be interested in receiving a copy of Jeff Gillenkirk’s upcoming novel Home, Away, explaining that it follows a professional baseball player who walks away from a Major League career to care for his son, so it might be of interest to me as an at-home dad.

I was definitely intrigued!

I won’t pretend to be a professional book reviewer, but having now (finally) finished the book I wanted to share my thoughts on it.

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Home, Away

By Jeff Gillenkirk
Chin Music Press, 2010

“A powerful, stirring novel about family, love and the depths of compassion played out against the dramatic backdrop of professional baseball.”

Jason Thibodeaux is a promising 21-year old pitcher, with a young son he adores and a bright future ahead. Having just taken the year off from college ball to care for his son Rafe while his wife Vicky finished law school, Jason is anxious to return to the field and kick-start his very promising baseball career again. But with the sudden, messy collapse of his marriage, a bitter divorce, and an unwillingness to repeat the mistakes of his own absent father, Jason finds himself forced to fight tooth-and-nail for his son. Sadly, it’s a fight Jason can’t win, even as his career catapults him into the big leagues — complete with $42 million contract…

When his troubled son is suddenly thrust back into his life six years later, Jason must choose between the game he loves or the son he barely knows, but who needs him now more than ever. Their struggles and progress as father and son are at times both heartbreaking and inspiring.

I knew going in that this story was going to deal with something more relevant to my life right now, as it follows a man trying to be the best dad that he can for his son. It came as a surprise to me how much I enjoyed the baseball stuff though!

When I was a young boy growing up in Toronto in the 80’s, I loved baseball. My glove was well worn. I have very fond memories of family outings to see the Blue Jays play, first at the old Exhibition Stadium, and then in the much more impressive SkyDome (now called Rogers Centre… but it will always be the SkyDome to me). Jesse Barfield was my hero, and I took comfort that his free-swinging style was similar to how I envisioned my own. I remember the team slowly moving out of the bottom of the League through the early 80’s; the first time the Jays won the AL East division title, and the “Drive of ’85.” I remember playing catch with my friend Derek, swearing together that we’d practice every day and become pros (I think we kept that promise for about 2 days). I remember Joe Carter’s pivotal role in the final moments of both the Jays’ World Series wins in ’92 and ’93. I remember my disappointment at the player’s strike of ’94, being a True Believer that maintained they could win it a third time in a row.

Our family moved to British Columbia ’93, where no Canadian MLB team exists, and ever so slowly following baseball simply receded from my priorities.

Now, I share all of that personal history because these are things that I hadn’t really though about in a very long time, but became a delicious stew of memories and emotions that were churned up by reading Home, Away. It made me want to play catch with my son.

Believe it or not though, the colorful world of baseball is but a backdrop for the more important story of one man trying to be the best dad he can be when his chosen career simply won’t let him. The story tackles difficult subjects ranging from broken marriage and divorce to single-fatherhood, from drug and alcohol abuse to anger management, from dealing with teenage rebellion to helping a teenager follow his own dreams, not yours.

But moreover this is a love story, about the love between a father and his son, spanning decades. On that level, my heart was at times broken for Jason and Rafe, but at other times overjoyed at their progress both individually and together. Like real life, there are no perfect people here, just a father and son trying their best and learning lessons the hard way.

Gillenkirk clearly knows his subject here.  Although Jason was not based on himself, Gillenkirk too struggled as a divorced single-dad, and his love and knowledge of baseball is evident. He definitely made me want to visit Mexico, too.

If I had one complaint about Home, Away, it would be that at times the dialog between teenage Rafe and his friends felt a little bit forced and unrealistic to me — very much like an adult trying to sound like a teenager by using modern slang, but not quite succeeding. But honestly, that’s a pretty minor complaint. The really heartfelt conversations had much more of a ring of truth about them, particularly the stinging, angry words passed back and forth between Jason and his ex-wife.

If you’re a father, or a son, and especially if you love baseball, I encourage you to check it out!

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