Saturday, April 20, 2013

Book Review – “Walking With Jack: A Father’s Journey To Become His Son’s Caddie” ☺☺☺

Walking With Jack: A Father’s Journey To Become His Son’s Caddie, a diary of author Don J. Snyder’s inner and outer journeys while fulfilling a promise to become a caddie for his son, is a book that had me waffling back & forth in my reactions as I read it. Though it is, in many ways, a grossly self-indulgent book, it is not totally lacking in thought-provoking moments.

Like so many golf-related books (too many, in my opinion...), Walking With Jack leans heavily on the theme of the father-son relationship as seen through the prism of the game of golf. In addition to exploring the various aspects and many nuances of the author’s relationship with his son, the book is also used by Snyder as an opportunity to delve into his somewhat tragic history with his father. A reader would have to be quite callous to not feel some sympathy for Snyder after hearing his family history (which I won’t detail here, in order to avoid spoilers...), but he leans on it rather heavily, and rather too often.

After sending his son, a successful but relatively undistinguished high-school golfer, to a lower-division college in Ohio where the boy plays his way onto the golf team, Snyder goes to Scotland to learn the ropes as a caddy, in anticipation of eventually being on the bag when his son begins a pro golf career. His journeys to Scotland, living an ascetic life while caddying on a variety of great golf courses – including the granddaddy of them all, the Old Course at St Andrews – come across as self-indulgent and self-absorbed.

In this book Snyder reveals himself to be an idealistic and impractical person at heart – someone who apparently has no problem hying off to the far corners of the world to pursue his idealistic visions while leaving his long-suffering wife behind to keep things together at home. He comes across as a stereotypically impractical, head-in-the-clouds Fine Arts major, living from windfall to windfall, feast-or-famine style, dreaming of writing the Great American Novel while turning down several opportunities for comfortable, secure, university teaching posts.

Snyder began his career in language with a teaching job at Colgate University, but an unfortunate run-in with his department head, which Snyder’s ego and poor judgement turned from bad to worse, ended his chances for a tenured post and job security.  He has had a couple of fairly successful novels, as well as one book which was turned into one of those saccharine Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movies – but he has also had to turn to carpentry, working out of doors in a harsh Maine winter, to pay the bills. It is extremely ironic that Snyder’s son – who was the one who was supposed to be pursuing a one-in-a-thousand dream of becoming a professional golfer – turns out to be a much more practical person, in the end, than his father.

The biggest problem with this book is the fact that author Snyder can’t resist telling the reader all about his trials, turmoil, and inner doubts – focusing on himself though he is supposed to be doing something to help his son succeed in a professional golf career. More caddie stories from his months on the Scottish links (though there are several quite good ones) and fewer passages of indulgent soul-searching would make this a better book. Though the trials and hardships he endures while caddying in Scotland are ostensibly altruistic in nature, with the goal of becoming a supportive, professional-quality caddie for his son, it becomes apparent that the experience is really all about Snyder confronting his own inner demons regarding his relationship with his father, while satisfying his need to demonstrate the emotional depths he associates with his pursuit of “Great American Novelist” status.

There is much to like, and many touching moments, in this book, but wading through the dross in order to find the jewels becomes tiring after a while – an editor with a firm hand, who refused to give in to the author’s indulgences, could have trimmed this book a good 20%-30% and made it a much better read. Walking With Jack, while ultimately a less-than-satisfying read, has enough of quality within it that it is deserving of a spot on the shelf among the other golf books – maybe not up on the top shelf, but perhaps down low and tucked sideways atop a few other volumes, wherever one can find room.

Walking With Jack will be released May 14, 2013, and will be available in hardcover and e-book editions.

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