Garasamo Maccagnone,
St. John of the Midfield
(BookSurge, 2008)

This wonderful book has three stories in it: St. John of the Midfield, a novel, and two short stories, "White Fang" and "My Dog Tim." They are all by author Garasamo Maccagnone.

St. John of the Midfield starts out as the tale of Giorgi "Bobo" Stoikov, an Olympic-class soccer player and Romanian defector who came to America for freedom and to escape poverty, but who was injured in his flight from Romania.

While Bobo remains an integral part of the story, this is really the story of the narrator of Bobo's story -- Mario, an assistant soccer coach who came from a Mafia family and is trying to distance himself from the mob while continuing the family traditions of loyalty and strong family ties.

As the story progresses, it evolves into a tale of sin, revenge, redemption and forgiveness, with soccer taking a backseat to everything else going on in Mario's life. Even as Searching for Bobby Fischer was about chess, but was really about the father-son relationship, so St. John of the Midfield uses soccer only as a context to tell a broader story of human values, weaknesses and triumphs.

At first glance, one might think this is a simple little book about soccer and the personal politics that goes on behind the scenes of youth soccer. One might even be tempted to pick it up as light reading or even as a gift for a teenage nephew or niece who plays soccer. That would be a mistake, as this book addresses issues like murder, sin and infidelity. While St. John of the Midfield is a quick read, it includes many serious topics, and is definitely aimed at adult readers.

The ending is entirely credible, and genuinely shocking.

After reading St. John of the Midfield, I am more than halfway convinced Garasamo Maccagnone could write a riveting yarn about used toothpicks or navel lint. He writes like a storyteller speaks, with rhythm, perfect pace, pauses, the right degree of detail, well-described settings and well-developed, credible characters. I have seen reviews that question whether there is an element of extremism or exaggeration in the story, but I grew up in a neighborhood where the echoes of the old Mafia families lingered, and this tale rang true to me. I have also spoken with a friend whose sons are active in youth soccer, and nothing I mentioned from the story surprised him. Maccagnone is just a good storyteller.

When I saw the title of "White Fang," I wondered why the author was using the title of the great action-adventure tale by Jack London. This 12-page story has nothing to do with Alaska, sled-dogs or snowdrifts. It is all about brotherly love, maliciously benign revenge and orthodontia. It was just plain fun to read. It made me smile.

I recently read a book titled A Dog Like Jack that was designed to help children deal with the loss of a beloved pet, but I was not thrilled with the book. In the 14 pages of "My Dog Tim," Maccagnone left A Dog Like Jack in the dust. This little tale will give you the warm fuzzies, then leave grown men crying in their beer, without ever seeming corny or sappy or schmaltzy. If you want someone to understand the full experience of owning a dog, have them read "My Dog Tim" -- and have plenty of tissues handy at the end.

These three tales are storytelling at its best. From reading this book, I am guessing that the author is an interesting person to talk to, not because he is unusual in any way, but simply because he is an ordinary guy who sees and understands the richness of ordinary life.

An added dimension is that, while I have never met, or spoken with Maccagnone, he lives but 10 miles from me. All three stories in this book are set in my area, and many familiar roads, cities and landmarks are mentioned.

review by
Chris McCallister

14 June 2008

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