Rope Burns: Stories from the Corner

F. X. Toole, Author
F. X. Toole, Author Ecco $23 (256p) ISBN 978-0-06-019820-6
Reviewed on: 09/04/2000
Release date: 09/01/2000
Paperback - 256 pages - 978-0-06-093838-3
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The story of the 69-year-old author of this astonishing first fiction collection is a salutary one; he wrote between gigs tending boxers in their corners as a ""cut man"" (who stanches the blood flow and allows fights to continue), finally got a story published by a small literary magazine, was spotted by a keen-eyed agent and achieved book publication. It's amazing it took so long, because Irish-born Toole, now living and working in Los Angeles, is a natural. His knowledge of the bizarre world of professional boxing is encyclopedic and utterly persuasive, his prose is as tight as a well-laced pair of gloves and his protagonists, in this collection of five stories and a novella, are mythically heroic (and occasionally evil) but convincing archetypes. ""The Money Look"" is an exquisite turning-the-tables yarn at the expense of a cynical crook of a fighter; ""Black Jew"" is a telling tale of humble ambition woven with the lure of big money. A lacerating account of a courageous, deeply endearing hillbilly woman fighter and her sad fate, ""Million $$$ Baby,"" is arguably the best story in the book. ""Fightin' in Philly"" is an almost equally moving tale of the toll the ambition to be a title fighter takes on a man. Another innocent torn up by the fight game is portrayed in ""Frozen Water."" Only the title novella, ""Rope Burns,"" falls somewhat behind the sterling standard set by the other stories, with their firm authority and dead-on dialogue. It is more ambitious, even operatic, in its pitting of an almost superhumanly noble Olympic contender against a low-life East Los Angeles gang member at the time of the Rodney King riots. Like all of Toole's stories, it's breathlessly readable, even though the climactic bloodshed feels forced, as if Toole's cool narrative style cannot bear so much melodramatic freight. But make no mistake, the man is a heavyweight fiction contender. Agent, Nat Sobel. 6-city author tour. (Sept.)
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