Rope Burns by F.X. Toole
When I read F.X. Toole's author bio, it made me feel a little sheltered and unaccomplished. Check this out: "F.X. Toole was born in 1930. Having worked as a bullfighter, professional boxing "cut man," taxi driver, and saloon keeper, Toole published his first book of fiction at age 70. He died in 2002, before seeing his short story, "Million Dollar Baby" become an Academy Award-winning film."
The man man made Hemingway look like a hare-lipped file clerk.
The stories in Rope Burns are equally tough and gritty, without being sordid. A good boxing story can never be sordid, because boxing has honor, and even if the other guy has you bleeding from the eyes, it's still not okay to rabbit punch him. The way that the trainers in Toole's stories teach their boxers the code of the fight is inspiring without being cheesy.
Toole's protagonists are always the good guys, and whether they're wearing the gloves, sealing up the cuts, or shouting advice from the corner, they're facing off against a ready-made villain, the opponent. There are lots of ways to be a boxing hero, and just as many to be a boxing villain - when you have those dynamics going for you, sometimes you don't even need much more in the way of a plot. Three rounds of boxing can pack in as much high drama and character tension, and as many plot twists as Macbeth.
While "Million Dollar Baby" may be the book's well, million dollar baby, my money's on "The Monkey Look," a clever story about a "cut man" who gets even. Also good is the title story, a novella about a trainer struggling to beat dirty odds and get his fighter to the Olympics.
If you liked...: The Pugilist At Rest by Thom Jones or Friday Night Lights by H.G. Bissinger, this book is for you.