Dancer Stonemason, a minor league pitcher, falls into a downward spiral in Joy’s debut novel.
This darkly nostalgic story is a study of an American family through good times and bad, engagingly set against major events from the 1950s to the ’70s, as issues of race simmer in the background. After pitching a perfect game, Dancer dreams of playing in the major leagues, but he never gets his chance due to a perpetually sore arm and the financial needs of his expanding family. He moves from his off-season job as a parts inspector at a Caterpillar plant to the company’s better-paying foundry, run by the Thackers, a father and son who are also members of the Ku Klux Klan. Joy vividly describes the workplace as a Dantean hell: “Once the furnace was fired up and the men started building molds, the air would be filled with carbon ash and fine black molding sand. The junk hung in the air and made everything look blurry, like a bad dream.” 
Stripped of his own dream, Dancer starts drinking and getting into fights; eventually, he gets arrested and becomes increasingly alienated from his wife and sons. Dancer’s older son Clayton, who once idolized him, grows to hate him, despite the fact that he’s just like Dancer in many ways. Meanwhile, Dede, Dancer’s wife, goes to work and has affairs but still helps her husband whenever he’s in trouble. Eventually, Dancer is taken in by a black milkman who’s a recovering alcoholic, a situation that eventually leads to a violent denouement and Dancer’s ultimate redemption. Overall, this novel is a natural for history buffs, filled with period details such as sting-ray bikes, Green Stamps, and the names of famous baseball players, including Spahn, Larsen, Mantle and Musial. However, it’s also an expertly written examination of the importance of dreams to the human psyche.
A well-crafted novel that will particularly appeal to sports and history aficionados.
Pub Date: April 19th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0991665907
Page count: 410pp
Publisher: Hark! New Era Publishing
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online: May 22nd, 2014
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2014

Praise for Len Joy’s
American Past Time

“Len Joy has an eye for the humble, utterly convincing details of family life: the look, feel, taste, and smell of work and school, meals and sport. This is mid-twentieth-century America seen neither through the gauze of nostalgia nor with easy cynicism but rather with a clear-eyed tenderness. Readers will care deeply, as I did, about the Stonemasons’s inextricable triumphs and failures."

                        Pamela Erens – The Virgins

“Here is a "baseball novel" that transcends sport and offers an in-depth portrait of a family and an era.
The novel begins in Dancer Stonemason's perspective but later moves to his wife's and son's perspectives and the effect allows their perceptions and understandings to bump against each other, complicating ideas of truth and love. The scenes are well-drawn and well-edited, filled with dialogue that reads like spoken word (a feat!) and characters who are as complex as real people, with the same complex desires, anger, sadness, and hope as real people as well. Themes of race, family, father-son relationships are present… But for me the most poignant moment happens near the end when a scene related to the end of the Vietnam War echoes against our present moment. Len Joy does write about a Past Time in America's history, but everything he details feels prescient now.”

                  Kristiana Kahakauwila – This is Paradise

“…Len Joy’s bracing debut novel that cuts deeply into the American social fabric and lays bare many of its myths.
Like his protagonist, Mr. Joy throws a few curves for the reader, although not many and none that can’t be forgiven in this true and honest and unflinching portrait of America that should not be ignored.”

                  Gary D. Wilson - Sing, Ronnie Blue

“…in Len Joy's nostalgic and moving first novel American Past Time, we follow the Stonemason family through the better part of three decades, exploring the unpredictable influences that family, society, and responsibility exert on one's life choices. In this impressive debut, Joy deftly and emotionally explores the many ways in which our relationships, hopes, and dreams can alter the course of our lives.”
                  Mary Akers – Bones of an Inland Sea

“American Past Time is not only a baseball lovers' novel but one that history buffs will enjoy as well. Through a narrative voice reminiscent of times gone by, it covers the changing social structure in 20th Century America including racial tensions, Vietnam, and parenthood. Men of all ages will love this book.”

                    Eileen Cronin – Mermaid: A Memoir of Resilence

“An all-American story that goes beyond the scope of the domestic and into the realm of history. A very engaging read.”

      Chinelo Okparanta – Happiness, Like Water

“I finished this book some weeks ago and wanted to wait to review it, to see if the story stayed with me. So many books I initially love I don't remember much about weeks or even days later.
This book held up. I've been thinking about why. It's not a hurtling read, nor is the writing so innovative your mind shatters. It's got baseball in it, and I hate baseball.
However, the story is so clearly and simply told--the book doesn't get in the way of itself at all, and what you're left with is a clean-lined beauty. There's nothing extraneous, nothing sentimental, even though there are emotional moments. This book follows a family through the 50s and into near-contemporary times. One review I saw said that it was a good book for "history buffs," but I disagree. Okay, it might be fine for history buffs, but really it's a clear and poignant portrait of a time not only in American life, but in the life of a certain class of people. Working class people, lower middle class people. Many people of my parents' generation, who grew up with relatively simple aspirations. Dancer Stonemason, the father in this family, is the most ambitious of anyone we see closely, in that he has long-shot career goals... to pitch in the major leagues. Otherwise, it's a matter of raising a family, paying a mortgage on a modest house, getting your kids through high school and maybe college. These are humble but dignified people living through a period of enormous social and economic change, including the Civil Rights movement. Even though my parents aren't midwesterners or southerners, I felt I gained a window into their pre-me lives and expectations of their futures. None of which went the way people of that generation expected. This is about regular people, living in a small town yet nonetheless immersed in a larger social context that causes challenges for their daily lives. They work through it, over the course of decades, and so the book has a nice resolution without the reader having to feel hit over the head with THIS IS A RESOLUTION.”

         Claudia Putnam – Wild Thing in Our Known World

“Len Joy's American Past Time is a wonderful debut. Its protagonist, Dancer Stonemason, is a lifelong Midwesterner trying to live out his dreams as a pitcher in the St. Louis Cardinals organization. But with a growing family and an arm that no longer cooperates, plans change.

Told against the backdrop of the "idyllic" 50's and "turbulent" 60's, Joy's compelling prose and exceptional characters take the reader through an intriguing period in American history.”
           Roland Goity – editor of WIPs: Works in Progress

“American Past Time is a good story well told. In one of his interviews, the author, Len Joy, speaks admiringly of the spare style of Ray Carver and Ernest Hemingway. One can see it in his writing too. The novel is set against a backdrop of the 1950s, 60s, and early 70s and many memorable events of that period figure into the plot, tangentially if not head-on. The story moves crisply forward and pulls the reader along with it, especially for someone who lived in those times. It’s a very good read.”
      Jim Tilley – Cruising at Sixty to Seventy: Poems and Essay

“American Past Time tells a riveting story, one that draws readers “of a certain age” into sharp and ambivalent memories of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. For those of us who passed through these decades in America, the book rings true to our memories. The past is neither romanticized nor reduced to a “simpler time” of relative innocence. The characters face the challenges of the day with courage and, at times, with the sardonic humor that lives on in my own memories – “Candy” throws a “Draft Lottery Party,” while my own friends, in 1968, threw for our graduating senior men a party we called “Viet Nam À Go-Go.” This is a compelling book, faithful to its subject and evocative of its time. For those who did not know the mid-twentieth century first-hand, this book provides insight not only on the struggles of their parents’ generation, but also on the evolution of the world in which Americans live today.”
        Constance Groh

“Life is a series of choices, a series of dreams, each impacting the dynamics of relationships in complex ways.
Set in the 1950s--1970s, this historical novel about a complicated family impacted by the father’s decisions and dreams is fast paced, clearly written and quite relevant. Bits of history are ambient reminders of what era the reader has been submerged into. The civil rights movement, memorable baseball names and moments, pop culture of the 1960s, Vietnam war. Len gets under the skin of his characters and succeeds in placing the reader right there-- in the small town world of high school games and minor league baseball, the heated drudgery of the foundry, the smokey filled bars, the blue collar culture. I felt that I was right there in the middle of it all.
Don’t miss this book. Easy to buy, easy to read. You’ll finish it fast because you won’t want to leave these characters.”
       Debbie Ann Eis – Lament for the Coons

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