Tag Archives: sports

Deal Me In, Week 1 ~ “The Man Who Fought Roland LaStarza”


Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The Man Who Fought Roland LaStarza” by Joyce Carol Oates

Murder on the Ropes: Original Boxing MysteriesCard picked: Queen of Diamonds

From: Murder on the Ropes edited by Otto Penzler – An anthology of boxing mysteries.

Thoughts: Deal Me In serendipity came into play for my first pick of the year, giving me a narrator who is thinking about events in her childhood after the death of her father on New Year’s Day 2000.

Back in the 1950s, when our unnamed narrator was just a girl, her parents were great friends of Colum Donagh, a light heavyweight boxer and local hero in Yewville, New York. Colum is known in the community as the Man Who Fought Roland LaStarza, but also the Man Who Took His Own Life. Colum mysteriously commits suicide at age 31 not long after fighting LaStarza.

To our narrator, Colum’s death is one of the many mysteries of childhood. The actions of adults were to her, and to most children, impenetrable. On one hand, Colum was often jovial, though mercurial, with an optimistic zest for life. He often unwisely boxed with all offense, leaving little for defense because he simply believed he *would* win. On the other hand, Colum had a theory that there exists a place where people know how their lives will play out, including the date of their death. While his friends find the concept morbid, Colum believes it would allow one to live life with all the proper embellishment.

So the mystery is, did this man, bright and vibrant (Oates repeatedly describes him as a flame), but maybe on the downside of his career, really kill himself?

Told in first person perspective by an unnamed narrator, I went back and forth on whether the narrator was male or female. I tend to default to giving first person narration the same gender as the writer, in this case female. I started out that way, second-guessed myself for a while, and then was given firm confirmation late in the story when her father takes her along to see Colum fight LaStarza. The female narrator gives the story an interesting feel. Not only is Colum a good friend of the family, but our narrator also might have the slightest crush on him, which makes her utterly unwilling to see any wrong in him or her father.

Joyce Carol Oates does a wonderful job with the main fight against Roland LaStarza. There are a few paragraphs that I want to pick apart to study how she writes action. I’m not terribly familiar with boxing, so FMI, Roland LaStarza is a real person. He was the boxer to come closest to beating the undefeated Rocky Marciano.

About the Author: Joyce Carol Oates is an author I wouldn’t have associated with boxing. To me she’s one of those supremely *literary* authors who can get away with writing genre too. I read her very unsettling “The Hand Puppet” just a few months ago in one of the Copperfield anthologies. But boxing? Maybe she’s just a name that Murder on the Ropes commissioned for the anthology? Nope. Oates has authored a collection of essays on the sport after taking an interest in it. It’s going on my reading wishlist.


Throwback Thursday (08/30/12)

Throwback Thursday is a weekly meme hosted by The Housework Can Wait and Never Too Fond of Books!

Noting that book blogging onften focuses on new releases, here’s how Throwback Thursday works:

  1. Pick a book released more than 5 years ago.
  2. Write up a short summary of the book (include the title, author, and cover art) and an explanation of why you love it.
  3. Link up your post at The Housework Can Wait or Never Too Fond of Books.
  4. Visit as many blogs as you can, reminisce about books you loved, and discover some “new” books for your TBR list!

Rope Burns by F.X. Toole

From my original entry, 09/30/08:

From the back of the book:
“F.X. Toole was a trainer and licensed cut man in the world of professional boxing. He was seventy when Rope Burns, his first book, was published, and had been writing and battling rejection letters for forty years. He died two years later, in 2002.”

Something to keep in mind next time I’m I bemoan being in this profession a mere 10-ish years with more paper incoming than outgoing.

My edition of this book was put out to coincide with he release of the movie Million Dollar Baby. Toole wrote the short story/novella and it’s included in this collection. And while it is a very good story (and the movie was faithful to it), “Rope Burns,” for which the collection was originally entitled, is the crown jewel of the book. Toole weaves the story of a black Olympic-hopeful boxer and his white trainer against the background of the LA riots.

Toole’s writing is solid. He knows his stuff and he does a wonderful job of putting actions into words. From a craft point of view, I’m going to spend some time in the future picking apart his fight scenes. I’m terrible with action and there’s much to learn. My one criticism of the collection was that some of the details surrounding the fight business are repetitive. It was a relief to hit “Rope Burns” which is more about the fighters and less about the fights.

Why read it today? I agree with the blurb from Dan Rather: this is “not just fight fiction at its finest, it is excellent fiction, period.” What was said about documentaries/non-fiction last week pretty much goes for fiction too, in the end. Good fiction should take you into a world you don’t think you care about and make it compelling. Which is why “I don’t read that genre” should never be an excuse for not at least giving a book a try.