BOON JUSTER or The Reason for Everything

by Garth Hallberg


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“There’s nothing like a death, especially someone else’s, to shake up the old ballgame.”

For Tom Hammock, already profoundly unsettled by the dysfunctional state of America—economically, politically, and socially—that opening sentence of the novel pretty much says it all. The sudden demise of Boon Juster throws him—and his most cherished beliefs—into disarray. During the four days that follow, both Tom’s personal and professional lives are upended, and he is forced to confront the unsettling possibility that the glorious past—both his own and his country’s—belongs more in the realm of myth than of memory. The plot follows Tom as he comes to terms with these tectonic changes, and forges new meaning and purpose out of flawed dreams.

The journey is Tom’s, but the cast of characters surrounding him are vital to his progress. Two women, each in their own way forceful and intelligent, compete for his attention if not always his affection. Old high-school girlfriends and teammates are there to steer him through his adventures, although a crash never seems to be far off. A bitter ball-field rival mysteriously reappears to do what he did forty years before—focus Tom on what he needs to do to win. Add to the mix two canny and fabulously wealthy eighty-somethings, Tom’s “old perfessor” Spotswoodie coach, a frog-crazed real estate doyenne, a Kazakh ingenue wise beyond her years, and a family of scheming cousins from the Punjab—all of whom have their own, frequently competing agendas—and it becomes a race to the finish line.

Over all the dark comedy hovers the enigma that is Boon Juster, hero or coward, womanizer or romantic, bold astronaut or “astronut?” “The Photograph in Question,” the fictional photograph around which much of the story revolves—Boon crushing the longest home run in the universe—is based on the Apollo 17 photograph, seen below, that presents a similar set of challenges to the made-for-TV story of the moon landings.

As Boon asks, “What is the value of an iconic photograph, uniquely American in both subject and spirit, that seals the case for our preeminence in the exploration of space and by extension, the exceptionalism that we claim as our national birthright?”

From the answer to that question, ambiguous and ultimately unanswerable as it might be, comes the message of this novel, for Tom as a person and America as a nation.

The Apollo 17 photo that inspired "The Photograph in Question"