Flesh & Blood

by Jim Christy,
ISBN: 0888946546

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School Of Hard Knocks
by George Kaufman

A BOXING BOOK THAT will appeal even to those who don`t like the sport? A boxing writer who quotes Thackeray and Joyce Carol Oates, but writes like a hip mixture of Damon Runyon and Raymond Chandler? Believe it, because you`re reading a review written by someone who thought lie didn`t like boxing, but found himself eagerly turning pages for the next largerthan-life anecdote and the next in an unending Parade of colourful characters. I`m still not a fan of the sport itself, but I could read about it endlessly if it were always described with Jim Christy`s wonderful flair for the English language. The book`s subtitle is more than mere rhetoric; he really does take the reader on a remarkable journey into the heart of a primal sport few understand, and fewer still have the literary talent to explain or explore. Christy gets it all in, from the tales of long-gone characters and events, relayed in the best oral tradition, to the many first-person accounts of his own intimate knowledge of the sport. Flesh and Blood would be an impressive accomplishment if it were a novel; that all these people and stories are real makes reading the book like being a peeping Tom at a bikers` party. You wouldn`t want to be invited in, but you`d really like to see what goes on. But then, perhaps even as inventive a writer as Christy could never have dreamed up the rags-and-riches crew we meet here, a virtual Who`s Who (or maybe "rogue`s gallery" would he an apter phrase) of the boxing world. There`s the Vancouver manager Tony Dowling, who`s ridden the boxing rollercoaster up and back down again more than once; "Baby Yack" (Norman Yakubowitz), the former Canadian great we meet in one of the most compelling, bittersweet private-eye stories you`ll ever read; Canada`s Great White Hope, Tommy Burns, the only Canuck to wear the heavyweight crown; Gordy Racette, who embarked on his own real-life Rocky story with the reel-life Rocky himself, Sly Stallone; Donny Lalonde, the guy who coulda been champ ... And, Of Course, all the less well known, but not less interesting, characters who fill out the cast that peoples boxing`s sub-culture. Christy himself seems born to bring this world to a wider audience. Though most of the book is not about Christy, his personality and experiences run through it, much as Philip Marlowe occasionally inserts himself into his own cases. But why do I keep harking back to Chandler Savour this passage: Present were the usual gym rats, dreamers slapping at the heavy hags, guys striking poses and copping attitudes, and the ever present diminutive Mad Dog Ortega. All these people came and went, now you see `em now you don`t, like the Marx Brothers eluding the cops and Margaret Dumont. Now try to dismiss the thought that Christy -- rather than Robert B. Parker -- should have finished Chandler`s Poodle Springs. Each of Christy`s 13 chapters is a satisfying short story, with themes and characters weaving in and out, none more effective than the one describing his serio-comic two-fight career as pugilist. The only part of the book that threatens to drag at all is when Christy feels he has to come to the defence of his chosen sport (most people call it that; to him, it "is not like a religion, in a very real and pagan sense, it is religion."). His spirited defence is well done and mostly convincing, but he protests a bit too much. His logical, rational case for boxing is at odds with his approach in the rest of the book. Christy also wanders a bit off track when he criticizes some of the movies made about boxing. For instance, he assails the lack of realism in The Harder They Fall, in which a boxer is cheated of his winnings, but then turns around a few chapters later and chronicles the story of a Canadian boxer who had a similar experience in real life. But when he sticks to storytelling, which is most of the time, he spins irresistible yarns of a world few people have seen. For those who haven`t, but would like a nice, safe visit from the comfort of an armchair, Christy is as good a tour guide as you`ll find. As he says: Boxing happens in a place you can`t hardly get to from suburbia and when you find the ring you`ve only found a very small part of it ... George Foreman said that boxing is like jazz in that only a minuscule portion of the audience knows what is going on ... Outside that circle, there are no rules at all. You want to do boxing business, throw away your MBA an take a course in cigar smoke and mirrors

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