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This knockout artist isn't another Mike Tyson, but an ex-boxer with a jaw so glassy he makes a living by KO'ing himself with roundhouse punches--and that's not the only metaphor that Crews belabors in this lively but obvious novel, his second since his ten-year layoff (from 1976's A Feast of Snakes to 1986's All We Need of Hell). ""Startling handsome"" Georgia cracker Eugene Talmadge ""Knockout"" Biggs--kept between knockout-gigs by rich beauty Charity, who's studying him for her doctoral thesis--isn't alone in prostituting himself here. As Eugene plys his unique talent among the decadent New Orleans upper-crust (for one gig, he KO's himself in view of a couple having sex), best pal Pete, also an ex-boxer, shows snuff films at a local grindhouse; Pete's gal Tulip makes love onstage to a toy teddy-bear; and a lovely lesbian named Jake, whom Eugene befriends at an orgiastic party, is a hooker. Unlike them, however, Eugene truly loathes his calling, feeling just like the caged lions at the zoo he frequents. So when a wealthy client, Blassingame, offers to bankroll him as a fight manager, Eugene bites, partnering with friend Pete in buying a promising Cajun boxer. Freedom from self-beatings tastes sweet at first--Eugene even fantasizes liberty for those lions ("". . .if he had gotten out of his own cage, nothing was impossible. All the lions needed was a little help. . ."")--but he sours one black night when he learns that Pete has double-crossed him for more of Blassingame's money and that Charity is cheating on him with Jake. Realizing that he's only traded one form of servitude for another, he flees town--broke but free. ""You are a metaphor for most of what I believe about the world,"" says Charity to Eugene. And that's the problem with this spiky satire: despite the original core conceit, the photo-sharp prose, and the rich slatherings of boxing lore, violence, and kinky sex, Eugene and the rest remain more symbol than substance, propelled less by inner emotions than by Crews' transparent literary design.

Pub Date: April 20th, 1988
Publisher: Harper & Row