From the late author (1930-2002) of the short story (from the collection Rope Burns, 2000) that inspired the movie Million Dollar Baby comes Toole’s only novel, a tough, tender tale about boxing people.
Protagonists Dan Cooley, trainer, and Chicky Garza, prize-fighting tyro, have both suffered the jabs and hooks of outrageous fortune. Cooley has been stalked by tragedy, culminating in the terrible accident that cost him his beloved grandson. Seventeen-year-old Chicky has been brought up by a grandfather who loves him and heroin in equal measure. We see Cooley trying to cope with loss and self-loathing, a struggle that often overwhelms him. We see Chicky exploited and betrayed by the criminal element that clings like barnacles to the bottom side of boxing. Both are severely battered and punchy, so much so that by the time they connect, neither has the emotional wherewithal for optimism about any kind of relationship. But Cooley spots the talent in Chicky and can't resist it. To Chicky, Cooley is the teacher/father he's been desperately searching for. Thus, for each other, they represent at least the possibility of a life redeemed.
Not a flawless novel—it softens noticeably in the middle—but the characters are irresistible, and their gritty, savage, strangely noble world is vividly evoked, by the real-life boxing trainer whose real name was Jerry Boyd.