Spirited memoir of life in a West Virginia backwater, where fight clubs keep youngsters from going off the rails.
It was a kid named Noah Milton—or maybe “his name was Noah and he was from Milton, West Virginia”—who was, writes Snyder (Rhetoric and Writing/Siena Coll.; The Rhetoric of Appalachian Identity, 2014), “the first person to kick my ass.” It wouldn’t be the last ass-kicking he received at the hands of beefy rednecks while standing up to his opponents in the rings of his father’s gym. He got knocked down, and he got up, always remembering his dad’s advice: “when you crawl through the ropes, you can’t hide from the truth,” whether it reveals you to be a fighter or a coward. Steeped in English literature, Snyder views the contest through a refined lens. While thinking of Beowulf, for instance, he recounts one neighbor, a “dope-smoking hippy” who bought the ring where Larry Holmes fought a storied bout, then had it painted red. A college friend is likened to Frankenstein’s monster, and he to the good doctor himself, since Snyder, delivered from temptation by virtue of logging time wailing the tar out of his contemporaries, was teaching the young man his tricks. “He was the type of guy who’d find a fight if one didn’t come looking for him,” writes the author appreciatively. Snyder has succeeded in melding the worlds of literature and the sweet science. As he writes, his first college essay was on how Joe Louis figured in Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, even as his father, who hit on the idea of boxing as a means of warding off juvenile delinquency, earned honor for his contributions at Lo’s Gym. Though the circumstances and surroundings are grim in meth-lab coal country, Snyder retains a pleasing but not Pollyannaish optimism throughout.
An affecting testimonial to the power of action and of storytelling—to say nothing of a good right hook—to make real change.