In 13 short stories based on real life, Ross (Nine...Ten...and Out! The Two Worlds of Emile Griffith, 2008, etc.) mines the memories of his life to create memorable characters struggling to survive against unfavorable odds.
To Ross, the boxing ring and its “gallant performers” have always seemed “to be a microcosm of life.” In “The Journeyman,” Ross’ opening story, the author portrays the weary existence of a seasoned prizefighter named Billy Dumas, aka “The King of Plain.” A “Model-T in a world of Corvettes and Porsches,” Billy’s been beaten so badly he develops what appears to be dementia—and a tragic belief in his own ability. The succeeding trio of tales revolves around the street-wise, Brooklyn adolescence of future Jewish prizefighter Al “Boomy” Davidoff and a gang of miscreants, such as Brownsville bully Billy Belch and “soda bottle-cap legend” Bitsy Beckerman, who act as if they’re on “the farm team of Murder, Inc.” “The Cashayfelope Man,” about the mystery surrounding a foreign-born ragpicker, takes place around the desperate time of what 6-year-old protagonist Dovie Mendelson calls “the Limberg baby.” Brownsville, the Brooklyn neighborhood of pushcarts and punch-ball games, reappears along with another set of pugilists and promoters in two of the book’s stronger pieces, “An Entrepreneurial Act” and “The Glory Days.” The former is a touching eulogy for Monk, “who throws as many punches with his face as he does with his fists”; the latter is a love letter, alternately heartbreaking and inspiring, to the camaraderie of boxers and trainers. The final three tales are told in rhyming verse, which detracts slightly from the power of the author’s wise-guy vernacular and polished prose. For the most part, Ross writes like a Steinbeck trained as a boxing columnist on the Lower East Side. Humorous turns of phrase keep sad inevitabilities at bay: “[T]his whole world ain’t made up of ditch-diggers and pugs,” says Monk—a thought that runs contrary to the world Ross handily creates.
A lithe, lyrical collection that packs more than a few punches.