Debut memoir depicting a late bloomer’s two-fisted pursuit of the Golden Gloves and the ringside personalities he encounters.
“I was old (thirty-two) and white (city indoor pallid) in a world dominated by the young and ethnic, the brown and tan,” Anasi declares, prompting fears this may be just another account of mid-life crisis. Fortunately, he’s also an observant, tightly controlled writer who crafts a trenchant report on the tangle of race, class, and urban topography informing the fading sport of boxing, while also subtly exploring his own motivations in training for the Gloves, the most prestigious amateur competition. Anasi shrewdly avoids narrative myopia with generous portraits of his fellow strivers that provide the texture and heart here. One memorable figure is Milton, a pugilistic veteran so irascible that he was banned from many venues, who taught a strangely effective form of under-slung, rotating hooks thrown “like you’re stirring a bowl of soup.” Milton doubtfully trained Anasi and eventually dubbed him “Elvis” (for his appropriation of Milton’s street stylings); his vinegary worldview enlivens the narrative. His opposite is Laura, an accountant and onetime domestic abuse victim emblematic of the nascent rise of female boxers. She became a devastating puncher, but eventually broke with Milton over his sexism and paranoia (Anasi continued sparring with her in secret). Elsewhere, Anasi explores the stories crucial to understanding contemporary boxing: of tough, impoverished kids who see the sport as an escape hatch, even as the “thug life” pursues them, and of talented journeymen cheated by unscrupulous promoters, their potential squandered on mismatched bouts designed to provide favored contenders with easy wins. The author may be pursuing a personal odyssey, but he achieves something greater and more fragile. Its thorough portrait of a dying sport and the underdogs who keep it going contains an unsentimental survey of multiethnic, working-class rituals and bravado, New York–style.
Provocative, energetic, and stylish: earns a spot on the shelf alongside Schulberg and Liebling.