Saturday, September 26th, 2020

33 Summers by Darren L. Pare

June 22, 2010 by  
Filed under Book Review

What would you get if you took a fictional Josh Hamilton type of character, mix in a dark plot line ala Bad Blake from Crazy Heart, and set the entire story to a multi-decade timeline using both historical events and a musical sound track.  You get a really good story by first-time author Darren L. Pare (and a Books on Baseball friend!).

33 Summers is a baseball novel.  But make no mistake, the book is more about family relationships (mostly dysfunctional), disappointments, personal turmoil and regret.  It follows talented player Jack Mathis from his earliest baseball memories playing little league in the 70s through college and pro ball all the way to the book’s surprise ending on Opening Day 2008.

The book, which is told in the first person narrative style, starts with Jack’s first memories of playing catch with his father, himself a frustrated jock.

“Jackie, if you listen to me, we can go all the way to the majors,” he would say. “I can see you in pinstripes now.”

The foreshadowing of an overbearing father figure combined with a submissive, but loving mother create a toxic familial environment for Jack as he grows up.  Jack struggles with shyness, relationship problems, and drug and alcohal problems while, at the same time, rocketing through the college ball at Mississippi State all the way to the big leagues.

During his pro stint, Jack struggles mightly to overcome his personal challenges.  His talents are diminished and, not surprisingly, he is shuttled between moribund teams Royals, Rays, Mariners, and Brewers.  At each stop, his “potential” label opens another door only to have his personal demons kick it closed.

One of the devices Pare uses in Summers is a historical timeline.  This device was used exquisitely by Charles Einstein in his baseball biography Willie’s Time.  In that book, Einstein “..places both lives and careers  within the context of several decades of American history–from the postwar years of Truman and Eisenhower’s fabulous fifties, through the civil rights struggles during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, to the Vietnam era and the downfall of Nixon.” (Extra Innings, Writing on Baseball by Richard Peterson, p. 146)

As a first novel, some of Pare’s writing is uneven.  More importantly though, Summers tells a riveting emotional tale which keeps the reader turning the page, rooting for Jack Mathis to pull through.  In my case, I read the book cover to cover in one sitting, which is high praise from me.

Books on Baseball Rating  Triple (think of Josh Hamilton, but darker)

Amazon Ratings: 4.0 stars

Top 5 Questions for author Darren L. Pare

  1. Q. You mentioned in your book’s Dedication that your wife convinced you to write the book.  How did that come about?  What was your  reluctance?
    It is great to have self confidence, but when someone else believes in you as well that can make a huge difference. My wife understood it was a dream of mine to get it done and never wavered with her support.
  2. Q. 33 Summers is a “raw’ story. How much, if any, of the story is autobiographical?
    Not very much really, but I can understand the hole that you might get into with substance abuse. People that I have known most of my life were very surprised by the dark tone of the book and that made me feel very good as a writer.
  3. Q. Did you model Jack Mathis after any specific ball player or was he a composite of many?
    I didn’t really model Jack after anyone. The story did come about, in a way, because of Josh Hamilton and his struggles. He always tells anyone willing to listen that God saved him, and I wanted to bring it down the road where the character doesn’t find God and see what happens.
  4. Q. The story follows a musical soundtrack and a historical timeline. How did you decide to use that method of storytelling?
     To me music helps me get a feel for the time period.  I think the news events achieve the same goal.
  5. Q. If 33 Summers were made into a film, what actor would you pick to play Jack Mathis?
    This will be the hardest question to answer. I’ll go with Matt Damon.  I’ve always liked him as an actor. I think he could play the dark moments in the book very well. 

 About the Author

A huge sports fan, Darren L. Pare grew up in the southern Maine town of Saco. He lives with his wife and two young children in Orono, just north of Bangor, home of author Stephen King.

Even though deep in the heart of Red Sox country, Darren has been a lifelong Yankees fan. Pare’s next book, currently in the works, will also be about baseball.

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