American Past Time by Len Joy is a delve into the world of family and family dynamics across several crucial decades in America’s growth as a world power and the incredible social change that was being felt across the country during that period. The author tells his story through the eyes of Dancer Stonemason, a semi-professional ball player who is just a few days from his potential major league call-up. It is September 1953 and playing in what could be the last game for his team, Dancer finds himself on the cusp of pitching a “perfect” game. The dilemma for Dancer is does he pursue the perfect game and risk his upcoming major league debut or does he put his future and his family’s future first and foremost. From the dizzying heights of adulation and fame, as a small-town hero, Dancer’s life and that of his family take a downward spiral. We follow them through the “bucolic” fifties, as life seemed to improve for all Americans, through the social change of the sixties and into the seventies, with the backdrop of that war that polarized Americans, the Vietnam War. Through all of this turmoil, Dancer seeks to find the path that will give him the life he so clearly wants.
Author Len Joy has given us a simple story, with a powerful message. In American Past Time, using the game of baseball as a metaphor for life, he portrays the rise and fall of a simple, working-man in rural America. What I particularly liked about this story was the corollaries that can been drawn between today’s rhetoric and that time in American, seen by many as the “golden age”. It’s well worth noting from this narrative that despite the “rose-tinted” glasses there was much that was not great about the America of the fifties, sixties, and seventies, particularly for groups of marginalized Americans, especially people of colour and those who did not conform to the strict societal and evangelical rules of the time, such as the LGBTQ community. I think the author did an excellent job at highlighting the immense social injustices of the wealth equality gap and the race gap, particularly as it applied to southern, rural, America of the time. Dancer, as a character was exceptionally well drawn, with recognisable flaws but with a heart for his family and his beloved game. The read is easy, the language simple and the story compelling. For me, I just wish, given the span of the time-frame, that the story had been longer. The time jumps were a little too large for my liking and more in-depth development of, say, Dancer’s son’s growing up and other interesting characters, would have been nice. That aside, this is an excellent read on the social, economic and familial dynamic of a period of American history often hailed as “the good old days”. For many, they weren’t.