Author:Philip Beard

Publisher:Van Buren Books


Henry, an eleven-year old boy, sneaks off to a Pittsburgh Pirates game after his baseball loving father, a professor, abruptly abandons his family for an ex-student. Looking lost at a bus stop, he is befriended by an amputee with no legs. Most in that situation would be resigned to life in a wheelchair but not John Kostka. With strengthened arms used like crutches to lift and SWING his body, he moves confidently in the world of the walking and provides a guide to stabilize Henry’s recovery from loss of his father.

It turns out the Swinger is merely an appetizer before the main course. He whets the appetite until you are led into the full impact of the story which is an exploration of how the family breakup affects Henry and his younger sister Ruthie, not just during their youth but also into their adult lives. In each chapter the story bounces between the two generations, expanding on each family life in parallel. By telling the first generation story in past tense and the second in present, we are kept grounded on which is being advanced.

As the story comes full circle to John’s memorial (mentioned at the outset), we can better understand the role he played in Henry and Ruthie’s lives and to a lesser extent their mother’s. And we gain an appreciation of how varied and lasting are the effects of a family breakup.

In the beginning I found the book interesting and soon enjoyed visualizing John swinging down the sidewalk with Henry at his side. Interest increased to intrigue, then suddenly I was fully engrossed in the story. I was right in there with Henry, trying to survive the childhood tragedy in better shape than Ruthie. I couldn’t put the book down and when it ended didn’t want to put it down.

Philip Beard is a keen observer of human behavior and the details that make up life events. His prose is very readable yet colorful in descriptions and rich in the subtleties, foibles and fantasies that we all experience at one time or another. I find two types of review difficult. The first is for mediocre novels where it’s hard to be honest without murdering the author. The second is for great novels where the challenge is to try and do them justice. Swing epitomizes the latter. It is a masterful novel that deserves a wide audience and a long life.