British journalist Sekules (Food and Wine), looking for a better workout, laces on the gloves and falls in love with jabs and hooks and uppercuts.
The author begins her story four hours before her first professional fight in 1997. She is “having serious and pointless second thoughts” and is “not exactly ready to rumble.” The bell rings—but before the bout begins she whisks us back in time, away from Philadelphia’s Blue Horizon arena to the genesis of her involvement in the sport: an aerobic boxing class in 1992. “I felt the hunger in my body to know this thing,” she declares, despite a professed distaste for violence. She describes with sly and wicked irony her first rounds in the ring (when she looked “like a chicken trying to hit a golf ball”), her deepening commitment to the sport, her enervating training sessions, her wanderings from manager to manager, her tenuous and tentative (and oddly loving) relationships with her colleagues, her first sparring session (“The absolute horror of this moment is delicious”), and (finally—on page 163!) the very fight we saw her warming up for in the prologue. Her blow-by-blow, stream-of-consciousness account of that losing effort is the principal stone in this lapidary work—at once funny, frightening, liberating, luscious, and exhausting. Although she lives to fight another day, it is not the same thereafter, and she finds herself adrift, a part-time pugilist. Along the way, she delivers a few stunning body-shots to Joyce Carol Oates (whose On Boxing she dismisses as “ravings”), to Norman Mailer (a “bellicose antifeminist”), and to others who dare view with disapprobation the efforts of women in the ring. This is a story of self-discovery, about finding out what you love, and then doing it—with passion, with a boxer’s heart.
Floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee.