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'Last Perfect Summer' a darn good read

| Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013, 8:03 a.m.

“The Last Perfect Summer” was absolute magic.

Please understand, a novel that centers itself around any sport as “The Last Perfect Summer” does, is like dose of Benadryl with a chamomile tea chaser to me. As a rule, no form of fiction loses my attention quicker than a story laced with athletics.

So when I say “The Last Perfect Summer” is magic, I am saying that it transcends mere “sports genre” fiction. It is much more than a story about Little League baseball. It is a story of the Boomer generation growing up during those hazy summer days. It's about small towns, close-knit neighborhoods, and families that worked hard and sacrificed — and taught their kids to do the same.

At the center of it all is Teddy Tresh, a successful 40-something who decides to visit a childhood friend who is living in a mental institution. Harry has been hospitalized for years since contracting encephalitis, which caused brain damage that left him feeble-minded and hopeless. When Teddy sees him after decades, he is determined to connect with his childhood friend in the only way that seems feasible — reminiscing with Harry about their days growing up in the small, Western Pennsylvania town of Rockland.

“The Last Perfect Summer” shifts back and forth between the present-day conversation of Teddy and Harry and their days as pre-adolescent boys during the '60s.

Teddy's visit with Harry is poignant. Harry progresses from an aged, confused psychiatric inmate to a man connecting to whom he was and is through the stories Teddy tells of their summer in 1964 when their all-star team made it to the championship.

As moving as those chapters are, it is the chapters centering on the boy's life in small-town America in the 1960s that capture the heart — especially the hearts of those of us in the Baby Boomer generation.

Prence brings it all back. Those early summer mornings where the day stretches ahead with limitless possibilities — spontaneous games of backyard baseball, crushes on the cute little girls next door, catching frogs and catching heck from any mom who caught careless boys stomping through their flower gardens.

Prence's prose transported me back to my old neighborhood, the days before Amber Alerts and fears of letting your kid out of your sight. A time where every kid in the neighborhood jumped on his bike first thing in the morning, checked in at dinner time, and made sure he was home when the streetlights came on - a time when one of the highlights of the afternoon was chugging down a chocolate Coke at the local drugstore with your buddies.

For a Boomer like me, this book was a welcome vacation to the halcyon days of my childhood. For a baseball fan, it would be pure heaven, because Little League is the core of Teddy's childhood summer — the championship, that golden grail that beckoned. Even for someone uninterested in baseball, like myself, Prence wove those baseball practices and games into intense heart pounding spectacles of victories and defeats as seen through the eyes of a 10-year-old boy. Prence's writing puts you in the middle of that dusty ballfield waiting, with stomach churning, for that ball to come straight toward you, hands sweaty and heart racing.

“The Last Perfect Summer” is poignant and charming. For boomers, it's nostalgic and will make you smile in recognition of those childhood summer days.

But even if you aren't a boomer, it's just a darn good read.

— Kathleen Edwards

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