Financial journalist and commentator Michael Pascoe is showing a rather different side to himself in his memoir The Summertime of Our Dreams – something he notes has been a long time in the works.
“It’s been written – well, woven really – over the better part of a decade,” he quickly explains as we speak over the phone. Woven is the right word for it – trust the scribe to know – as it’s a captivatingly unconventional read by the measure of most memoirs.
This isn’t the memoir you’d perhaps expect from someone with nearly five decades’ experience in journalism with the likes of Seven Network, Nine Network, The Sydney Morning Herald, and The Age. Not so much of this book is concerned with his career, although its second chapter concerns a regrettably dismissive quip on The Today Show many years ago wondering just what extent of grief is possible over the death of a pet. He was a stand-in host at the time; he wasn’t much longer after that one.
No, it’s the opening chapter that prefaces that which sets the topic for this book, as Michael recalls his friend Sergio breaking the news to him that their childhood friend Jim had inoperable prostate cancer. The three boarded together from Year 9 at Nudgee College and were rugby teammates; now Jim was faced with a death sentence that came too soon as he died aged just 60. Michael also recounts his own cancer diagnosis – one with significantly better odds – throughout as well.
But it’s the way Michael Pascoe takes readers on a journey through these diagnoses as they, their family, and of course their friends process it. Weaving the story together – reflections on their childhood, and reflections on Michael’s own family – Michael centres it around a drive up Australia’s east coast in his Alfa Romeo Giulia Veloce.
It’s a journey Michael notes most wondered why he’d embark on by car, rather than flying. He simply says it’s because he wants to drive, and it’s a response that’s telling of his love of driving and of Alfa Romeos. Long an Alfista – he fell in love with their exotic styling as a youngster – he’s owned many over the years and that love shines through as he reminisces on the ones he regrets selling, and even one he bought back more recently such was the desire to own one again – a black manual 3.2-litre GT.
For Michael, driving was the obvious way to intertwine the many topics this memoir recounts given the way we can often find ourselves reflecting on a long road trip. It also drew upon the other thing Michael wanted to capture in this book – the memory of his father.
“I began to write to keep a promise to my father that I would write about his life because he didn’t recognise himself what he had achieved and I was very proud of him. I was looking for a way to marry that with a love of country that was very strong for my father, being an old bushy.
“I thought it was a way of trying to get that reminiscence happening and also trying to convey the feeling of country and driving. Caught up in that, if you’re writing about your father and fatherhood, there’s a coming of age factor in that. Certainly, for my generation – and I think for more than my generation – driving itself was a coming of age.”
Michael tells me that in the process of ‘killing your darlings’ that all writers must go through, one thing that unfortunately didn’t make the cut was his father’s love of cars. “His cars, unremarkable as they were, were important to him,” he notes. However, one thing he did get to capture was the rite of passage that was his father helping him buy his first car, and then Michael in turn helping his sons with the same.
The picture Michael paints of the drive from Sydney to Brisbane is quite remarkable, the little details of tourist signs, P-platers stranded in broken down old cars, flicking the Giulia into Dynamic mode for the hell of it, and lush landscapes making for a read that twists and turns much like his preferred, more fun route up the coast.
There’s one other device Michael uses to bind the story together that’s even more captivating, though. Printed throughout the book are a series of emails between Jim and himself as the former processes his diagnosis and shares his life’s learnings with Michael, as well as Jim’s daughters who get cc’d in.
Jim is at-times hilarious, but his intelligence and unpretentious country nature is what clearly shines through, with the hope his communication with everyone is mutually beneficial for it wouldn’t be communication otherwise. It’s a privilege to be privy to these conversations; they’re the real meat and potatoes of this read. Early on, Michael notes to Jim these seem more like letters than emails, and they certainly read as such.
Speaking to Michael, it’s clear how much Jim meant to him – a slight hint of getting choked up as he recalled his teachings the understandably clear evidence of that.
“It was his grace,” Michael says.
“His grace and style of facing up to it. When I had my dance with cancer, I’d try to be like Jim, thanking the nurses, making an effort to remember the names, and keeping it in perspective – hey, it’s only death and everyone does it – so it’s not about you, it is really more about the people you leave behind.
“But that’s from the point of view of someone who’s lived a few years. Obviously, when it’s the death of someone young, it’s a different animal altogether.”
For what is a heavy topic to deal with – that being death – Michael manages to tackle it in this book in a way that makes it an involving, thoughtful, and thought-filled weekend read. Perhaps it’s the way he wound this story together that showcases his journalistic experience better than a recount of that experience itself could.
The Summertime of Our Dreams is out in Australia on August 3, 2022.
Full Disclosure: Ultimo Press provided a copy of The Summertime of Our Dreams by Michael Pascoe ahead of the book’s release to evaluate for this article.