cover image The Ski Jumpers

The Ski Jumpers

Peter Geye. Univ. of Minnesota, $25.95 (408p) ISBN 978-1-5179-1349-6

The delicate balance of family dynamics and the unshakable grip that the past holds on the present are center stage in the heartfelt latest from Geye (Safety from the Sea). Several decades after 60-something Jon Bargaard gave up the danger and the exhilaration of ski jumping, he relives his memories of the sport and of his early life, spurred by a diagnosis of younger-onset Alzheimer’s. Flashbacks take the story to Jon’s Minneapolis childhood, when he and his younger brother Anton were coached by their “Pop,” a champion ski jumper. Then, when Jon is 18 and Anton 13, Pop leaves their mother, Bett, for another woman, and Bett has a breakdown that lands her in a state hospital. In the fallout, the brothers have a 45-year estrangement. By moving back and forth in time, Geye gradually brings clarity to Jon’s past. Though ski jumping is a bit on-the-nose as a metaphor for Jon’s challenging and emotional leap into his memories, and the tangled plot has soapy elements, the author compassionately articulates Jon’s feelings of isolation and awareness of his precious remaining days. It’s a little baggy, but it has its moments. (Sept.)