Barry Graham’s The Champion’s New Clothes is a wonderful novel set around the dark, dangerous and always intriguing world of professional boxing (the Scottish version). As a big fan of Eddie Muller’s noir boxing novels, I didn’t know what to expect and was very pleasantly surprised by how this very different boxing tale engaged me. Graham deals with relationships that happen to revolve around the boxing world; through personal struggles that exist in all worlds. Like Muller’s boxing journalist (Billy Nichols), Billy Piers also writes about the boxing circuit. Unlike Nichols, Piers is a former boxer. Also unlike Nichols, Piers has to deal with a full-time tension-filled relationship, that with his live-in love (Karen), a woman struggling with paranoid schizophrenia and all the damage it heaps on not only herself, but those closest to her (Piers, for one).
Piers is writing a book while hanging around the camp of Ricky Mellon, a friend and a kid training for his shot at the lightweight title. Mellon is a brawler more than a boxer and the title is pretty much everything he’s lived for (and what a bittersweet moment he’s in for after the bout).
There’s a good bit of boxing we learn about throughout the piece, including the problem with overtraining and the damage that can do (it’s been a particular issue for me with weight lifting meets in the past--peaking too soon before a meet), but the bulk of this novel is about Piers falling for his neighbor (Kerry) while trying to deal with his live-in-love (Karen) and her issues). The Champion’s New Clothes is a modern day verismo opera; relationships requiring the kinds of sacrifice it takes to be a champion without knowing what the belt might bring. A surprising, unsettling open ending that offers no fairytale of a future.
Sandra Ruttan opens her latest novel, Harvest of Ruins, with a chapter that ends with a hook readers will not ignore. There’s some terrific writing going on here, including a word game that ends in a poignant and powerful moment (here taken out of context):
“I know what personification means.”
It was the day of the funeral, and the sky was crying.
You don’t learn how to write powerful passages like that. You get there through years of doing the work that is writing. This is powerful stuff later the same day brought me to an emotional moment (at work, of course, so it was totally uncomfortable for me).
Hunter, a single mom detective, had a former partner (Tom), with whom she had a relationship. She’s on trial for negligent homicide and it has much to do with Tom’s daughter (Evelyn/Vinnie); Hunter once had to inform Tom about Vinnie’s drug overdose. Vinnie is a kid who has already gone through the emotional trauma of her boyfriend’s suicide (or was it?), her parent’s divorce (and her mother is a bit of a whackjob herself). And what about that relationship between Hunter and Tom? Any residuals involved?
And what about the kids, Evelyn/Vinnie’s friends? There’s something not right about one in particular ... and it is here the author does a wonderful job of presenting a kid’s perspective(s) on some of the issues kids have to deal with day-to-day.
Told mostly during Hunter’s trial for negligent homicide, the author uses some neat tools of the trade (flashbacks, alternative perspectives, newspaper articles, television news accounts) in her best work to date, Harvest of Ruins.
No spoilers here, ever, so you’ll have to read to learn what happens next, but I can guarantee you this much, it is a tale told in a very effective writing style; plotted with twists and turns and some not so run of the mill circumstances. One mark of good writers is how they get better and better at their craft, and Harvest of Ruins is one such mark for this very gifted author.
Palin isn’t running ... bummer, dudes (and gals) ... the one question I was hoping she’d have to answer (had anyone in the media found the balls to ask her) was: “When you say “take our country back” ... can you define “our” please? Something tells me she passed up all that “American history” that came before Plymouth Rock (and way before Paul Revere warned the British that ... we were here?).
Oy vey ... I don’t know about yous, but I’m gonna miss this:
Deborah Karpel’s show November 1st. I used to work with this very talented lady. Deborah Karpel is a... jazz, old-time country, pop, and Klezmer-singing, classically-trained opera diva who came up through the ranks of comic improvisation and sings in nine languages. She’s got a show on November 1st ... more details to follow.
Baseball been very messy of late ... so this is what happens when you insist on having a tournament every year instead of letting the 162 game season account for something. The two teams with the best records in baseball are eliminated in a five game series. I can’t tell you how happy this makes me (seriously) ... not only because I’m a hopeless Mets fan, but because I hate what money has done to baseball. Absolutely hate it. So, good, the two big market teams are gone and now you’re stuck with a world series nobody outside of the cities the teams come from will give a shit about. Perfect. Way to go, yet again, MLB.
Now, for the only true sport. How ‘bout those Buffalo Bills! This week it’s us vs. the Philadelphia Dog Killers ... Bills rock the Dog Killers world, 42-16.
One from back in the day that gets the drumming juices flowing again ...