In Sheridan’s debut novel, a mixed martial arts fighter struggles to raise a teenage son while dealing with unsavory elements in Woodbridge, New Jersey.
In 2001, 20-something MMA competitor Franco—who evidently resembles both Sylvester Stallone and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson—trains hard when he’s not busy supporting his wife, Julie, and son, TJ, by working as a temporary worker at the docks for a man known as “The Frog.” But Franco’s potential fighting career is cut short by a devastating loss, during which he breaks his ankle. Seven years later, he’s divorced from his wife, but his MMA comeback may finally be on the horizon. He still handles unpleasant tasks for The Frog, such as cleaning up maggots or rat excrement at the docks. But his latest job is even dirtier: The Frog offers him a hefty sum to kill someone. Meanwhile, TJ, who lives with his mother, is staying with Franco for a few days. Father and son bond as Franco shows TJ some moves to use on a school bully. Unfortunately, criminal types soon threaten Franco’s return to the MMA cage—and threaten his loved ones, as well. Despite offering a sometimes-harrowing view of Franco’s life, Sheridan’s novel is surprisingly upbeat in tone; its resolute protagonist trains relentlessly and never gives up on his family, no matter what. The tale also addresses issues of race and social class in inspired ways, as Franco is an orphan of unknown heritage. Along the way, Sheridan’s exuberant prose entails rhythmic passages (“Had money for booze but not for shoes”) and copious wordplay (“Then onto Elizabeth and all its asphalt. Exhausted immigrants wonderin if it’s they own ass fault”). This results in a breezy narrative that complements the ever hopeful protagonist at its center.
An admirable story with shades of Rocky and Boyz N the Hood, told in an uncompromising and original voice.