Sunday, September 28, 2008

On the Shelf, Part II: Jack Falla

While I’m still on the shelf (see Part I), I present to you a tribute to Jack Falla, who wrote the two books I’ll review below. Jack, who died on Sunday September 14, was more than just a great writer.

Home Ice: Reflections on Backyard Rinks and Frozen Ponds


I was geared up to read about the experiences the Fallas and their friends shared on the Bacon Street Omni. And Falla delivers the goods with humor and honesty, with wit and wisdom. But Home Ice, for me, has become more than a celebration of hockey and that which unites families and communities.

I, a relative newcomer to New England, didn’t expect to learn so much about the Boston Bruins. I had heard of Orr and O’Reilly, of course, but I didn’t grow up watching them as Falla did. He brings his memories of the Big Bad Bruins to life. Falla also mixes Black and Gold with the Oil. His skate with Wayne Gretzky enriches the book, giving it balance: the Great One juxtaposed to the average Joes who play on the pond.

Because I enjoyed the book so much and had started writing my own hockey book, I was compelled me to seek Falla’s literary counsel. Finding Falla was easy. A staff member at the Framingham Barnes & Noble told me that the author dropped in every once in a while to sign his books and that he would tell Falla about me.

In 2004, Jack took time out from his schedule, which included teaching sports journalism at Boston University, to discuss my own hockey memoir. Jack taught me about tighter writing, how to trim the fatty words. Later, he convinced me that I had a unique story and that readers deserved me as the central character.

As I wrote more and more and have developed this site, Jack has continued to encourage me. On December 29, 2007, he wrote this in an e-mail:

“Hi, James...looks as though you’ve created a nice hockey writing niche for yourself. Good for you. All best with it in 2008 and beyond.”

Then he told me about his book that would be released ten days later.

“I wrote my first novel, actually my first fiction of any kind not counting Sports Illustrated expense reports… It’s a humorous love story that plays out over a modern NHL season.”

Saved

A fictional account about a goalie of French Canadian ancestry and who plays in the NHL, Saved borders on non-fiction. It’s no serendipitous coincidence that Jean Pierre Savard plays goalie for Jack’s favorite team, the Bruins. It’s no surprise then, that Jack was also a netminder, and that like his protagonist, Falla’s family tree is partly rooted in French-speaking territory.

Falla’s description of the on-ice action and insights into how players deal with the media, and what happens in a player’s private life—as well as what he’s thinking—all read true. The novel also contains characters, names that Bruins and/or AMHL fans will recognize: Cam, Rancourt…even a cameo by a Dwyer. Other characters’ names sound more cartoon-like—“Flipside, “the Mad Hatter,” and “Rinky”—but add color to Falla’s commentary. And like any good book, conflict, sadness, doubt, compassion, faith, and redemption make this a keeper.

In that e-mail to me, Jack also mentioned the book he was writing, which would be released in September 2008.

I haven’t read Open Ice yet because I’m too sad.

You see, Jack closed the e-mail by saying, “My rink opened last week, this for its 25th consecutive season. Won’t be 25 more I’ll tell you that. May not be any more. But we did a quarter century. I’ll take it.

“A belated Joyeux Noel and an early bonne annee.”

I only met him face-to-face that one time. I'll take it, but I miss him.

Adieu mon ami. Repose en paix.
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