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Fat City (New York Review Books Classics)

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Fat City is a vivid novel of allegiance and defeat, of the potent promise of the good life and the desperation and drink that waylay those whom it eludes. Stockton, California is the setting: the Lido Gym, the Hotel Coma, Main Street lunchrooms and dingy bars, days like long twilights in houses obscured by untrimmed shrubs and black walnut trees. When two men meet in the r Fat City is a vivid novel of allegiance and defeat, of the potent promise of the good life and the desperation and drink that waylay those whom it eludes. Stockton, California is the setting: the Lido Gym, the Hotel Coma, Main Street lunchrooms and dingy bars, days like long twilights in houses obscured by untrimmed shrubs and black walnut trees. When two men meet in the ring -- the retired boxer Billy Tully and the newcomer Ernie Munger - their brief bout sets into motion their hidden fates, initiating young Ernie into the company of men and luring Tully back into training. In a dispassionate and composed voice, Gardner narrates their swings of fortune, and the plodding optimism of their manager Ruben Luna, as he watches the most promising boys one by one succumb to some undefined weakness; still, "There was always someone who wanted to fight."


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Fat City is a vivid novel of allegiance and defeat, of the potent promise of the good life and the desperation and drink that waylay those whom it eludes. Stockton, California is the setting: the Lido Gym, the Hotel Coma, Main Street lunchrooms and dingy bars, days like long twilights in houses obscured by untrimmed shrubs and black walnut trees. When two men meet in the r Fat City is a vivid novel of allegiance and defeat, of the potent promise of the good life and the desperation and drink that waylay those whom it eludes. Stockton, California is the setting: the Lido Gym, the Hotel Coma, Main Street lunchrooms and dingy bars, days like long twilights in houses obscured by untrimmed shrubs and black walnut trees. When two men meet in the ring -- the retired boxer Billy Tully and the newcomer Ernie Munger - their brief bout sets into motion their hidden fates, initiating young Ernie into the company of men and luring Tully back into training. In a dispassionate and composed voice, Gardner narrates their swings of fortune, and the plodding optimism of their manager Ruben Luna, as he watches the most promising boys one by one succumb to some undefined weakness; still, "There was always someone who wanted to fight."

30 review for Fat City (New York Review Books Classics)

  1. 4 out of 5

    Rae Meadows

    Fat City won the National Book Award in 1970. Reading it I felt the masculine despair of Carver, Bukowski even, a gritty look at men who are not making it. One character is a past-his-prime boxer who works day labor in the fields of Central California but returns to the gym to try to regain something of his life. The other character is a younger man who trains in the same gym, hoping for something other than his pregnant wife and stifling life in Stockton. It is grim, to be sure, but Gardner is Fat City won the National Book Award in 1970. Reading it I felt the masculine despair of Carver, Bukowski even, a gritty look at men who are not making it. One character is a past-his-prime boxer who works day labor in the fields of Central California but returns to the gym to try to regain something of his life. The other character is a younger man who trains in the same gym, hoping for something other than his pregnant wife and stifling life in Stockton. It is grim, to be sure, but Gardner is a marvelous writer. (Denis Johnson wrote the soaring introduction to this edition.) There is such subtlety in the scenes and dialog between men and women--simmering resentment, hopes, hate--juxtaposed with the gruesome violence of the small-time boxing ring. Uplifting, this book is not. It's full of alcoholics and lost hope and lives lived on the edge. But it has a humming humanity at its core and I loved reading it.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jayakrishnan

    Fat City is a small book. But it is a tough read. I had seen the John Huston-Stacey Keach-Jeff Bridges movie six months ago and liked it a lot. I read the novel over the weekend. Its about the boxing scene in Stockton, California - described through the lives of two boxers, their lovers and their common trainer. It is a sad novel about the ups and downs (mostly downs) in the boxers lives as they grapple with all the bad luck, the women, ennui and sloth. The characters were extremely fatalistic, Fat City is a small book. But it is a tough read. I had seen the John Huston-Stacey Keach-Jeff Bridges movie six months ago and liked it a lot. I read the novel over the weekend. Its about the boxing scene in Stockton, California - described through the lives of two boxers, their lovers and their common trainer. It is a sad novel about the ups and downs (mostly downs) in the boxers lives as they grapple with all the bad luck, the women, ennui and sloth. The characters were extremely fatalistic, seemingly unable to conquer the devil inside their minds or conquering it for a short while before it starts working on them again. "..... they succumbed to whatever in them was the weakest, and often it was nothing he could even define", Ruben the trainer tells himself about the boxers he has trained. Sex is an important part of the novel. One of the boxers, Billy Tully cannot seem to get over his wife leaving him. A succession of relationships with other women (including one spiritually wounding affair with an alcoholic woman) does not allow him to forget his wife whom he loved dearly. Even when he tries to revive his flagging boxing career, it is in the hope that he can win his wife back. The other boxer, Ernie Munger is deeply insecure about his new wife after the arrival of her former lover in the small town. Maybe the writer was trying to describe the boxers psyche in that the possession of a woman was very important for these guys. It was something that helped them define their masculinity. Any doubt regarding their ability to keep their women, derailed them and would lead to alcoholism, bar fights and indiscipline (with regard to their career). Another important aspect of the novel is the description of the landscapes. I love American novels like these with descriptions of gas stations, small town bars, long empty roads, side streets, orchards, barren fields and levees. There is something very idyllic and romantic yet bleak about these landscapes.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Fabian

    One solid American Tale. More about the men's personal life (wives, remedial jobs, prejudice) than the sport of boxing. (Why o why am I so attracted to these little books about athletes? I read "The Natural" a while ago & right now the Olympics ARE where its all about. But perhaps I'm kinda trying to find that novel that debunks "Art of Fielding" as the best sports novel of all time. Which is a real toughie.) One solid American Tale. More about the men's personal life (wives, remedial jobs, prejudice) than the sport of boxing. (Why o why am I so attracted to these little books about athletes? I read "The Natural" a while ago & right now the Olympics ARE where its all about. But perhaps I'm kinda trying to find that novel that debunks "Art of Fielding" as the best sports novel of all time. Which is a real toughie.)

  4. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    California is a story of two states. Norcal and Socal, for all of their rivalries and proclamations of differences are really two sides of a coin. It’s moving inland - where the politics shift right, home values decrease and employment outside of the agriculture sector becomes more scarce – this is where you’ll find the other California, the second state, the place that looks and feels so different from the coastal cities it may as well be in the Midwest. Stockton is one of these inner California California is a story of two states. Norcal and Socal, for all of their rivalries and proclamations of differences are really two sides of a coin. It’s moving inland - where the politics shift right, home values decrease and employment outside of the agriculture sector becomes more scarce – this is where you’ll find the other California, the second state, the place that looks and feels so different from the coastal cities it may as well be in the Midwest. Stockton is one of these inner California towns, and it’s almost not fair to the rest of the world that takes up a pen to write fiction that Leonard Gardner can write such a perfect first novel using this city as his setting. Yes, this is boxing fiction, but boxing is simply the clay Gardner uses to cast his dual protagonists, the young Ernie Munger and the fading Billy Tully. They meet in the opening pages of the book and then their stories depart for a time, Munger’s new life in the ring presenting subtle echoes of Tully’s same experiences a decade before. There is an uncomfortable intimacy in the writing concerning poverty, a day-to-day hardscrabble finding a meal and a roof. Gardner must have pulled from firsthand experience in writing these scenes. They are too perfect. My copy of this book comes with a Denis Johnson penned Introduction, one of the most beautiful homages of the form. Johnson credits this author, this book, as his northstar when he was beginning as a full time writer. I love learning about how authors are touched by those that came before. If only Fat City had the readership of Johnson; it certainly deserves it.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Dave Schaafsma

    “We Had Our Bitter Cheer And Sweet Sorrow We Lost A Lot Today We Get It Back Tomorrow I Hear The Sound Of Wheels I Know The Rainbow's End I See Lights In A Fat City I Feel Love Again”--Round of Blues, Shawn Colvin Fat City: “a place or condition of prosperity, comfort, success, etc. With a new house and a better-paying job, she's in Fat City”--Collins I’m not particularly into boxing, though I recall times when I watched live on tv several fights such as the Sonny Liston-Cassius Clay (Muhammed Ali) bouts “We Had Our Bitter Cheer And Sweet Sorrow We Lost A Lot Today We Get It Back Tomorrow I Hear The Sound Of Wheels I Know The Rainbow's End I See Lights In A Fat City I Feel Love Again”--Round of Blues, Shawn Colvin Fat City: “a place or condition of prosperity, comfort, success, etc. With a new house and a better-paying job, she's in Fat City”--Collins I’m not particularly into boxing, though I recall times when I watched live on tv several fights such as the Sonny Liston-Cassius Clay (Muhammed Ali) bouts of the sixties (see below for some film highlights). I turned to this because I knew it was seen as a “writer’s” book (a clinic on a certain kind of writing), and so enjoyed listening to this book and its preface by Denis Johnson, who claims it was his biggest influence. Fat City, by Leonard Gardner, was published to critical acclaim in 1969 and was his only published novel, though he was also able to write the screenplay for the film John Huston directed, starring Stacy Keach, Jeff Bridges and Susan Tyrrell, so that’s more than most writers accomplish in a lifetime. The story follows a couple boxers and a manager and some women (kind of) attached to them in the sixties in Stockton, California, where Gardner grew up, but it’s really more about being “down and out in Stockton” (i.e., poor; see Orwell on London and Paris about this subject) than boxing. “He felt the guilt of inaction, of simply waiting while his life went to waste. No one was worth the gift of his life, no one could possibly be worth that. It belonged to him alone, and he did not deserve it either, because he was letting it waste. It was getting away from him and he made no effort to stop it. He did not know how.” Boxers barely surviving a brutal life for little money, picking onions during the day, breaking relationships with alcohol at night. “. . . they succumbed to whatever in them was the weakest, and often it was nothing he could even define." Think John Fante, Charles Bukowski, Raymond Carver territory. Working class struggles to survive, desperation, inertia, mistakes, bleak realism or noir with spare powerful lean prose. A short novel, with sentences like muscular jabs at times. Sex/relationships are central. Billy Tully’s wife left him and nothing gets better for him with multiple serial loveless encounters. He misses her and cant get over it; maybe she'll take him back if he just works a little harder and becomes a successful boxer? “All I need's a fight and a woman. Then I'm set. I get the fight I'll get the money. I get the money I'll get the woman. There's some women that love you for yourself, but that don't last long.” The other boxer, Ernie Munger, suddenly gets jealous of his new wife’s former lover. Insecurity, anything that undermines his sense of masculinity, and everything goes to hell, meaning: Booze. These guys do need love but the women can't see how to give it to them as they are. The men can't accept that love for what it is. Sound too bleak for you? Okay, I said it was a book for writers more than mainstream readers, probably. But that writing is often gorgeous: “The sky darkened, the liquid singing of the blackbirds diminished and ceased, mud hens swam back to shore, climbed up the banks and huddled in the willows. The lights of a farm came on in the brown distance where patches of tule fog lay on the barren muddy fields. A wind came with the darkness, rattling the license plate, and a low, honking flight of geese passed.” Ultimately Gardner cares for these men and doesn't judge them too harshly, without also excusing them. It's a humane book, about endless hope in the face of despair. Liston-Clay: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXYwb...

  6. 4 out of 5

    Tony

    The obligatory Introductions in the nyrb-classics series are often scholarly analysis by well-known authors. Don't tell, but I often skip them, or cherry-pick an important date or two therein. But Denis Johnson, in two pages (I like that), didn't try and tell me how smart he is, or how his writer's insight is more important than my mere reader's view. No. Instead, he wrote about what it is to be a fan of an author or a book. He told this story: My friend across the road saw Gardner in a drugstore The obligatory Introductions in the nyrb-classics series are often scholarly analysis by well-known authors. Don't tell, but I often skip them, or cherry-pick an important date or two therein. But Denis Johnson, in two pages (I like that), didn't try and tell me how smart he is, or how his writer's insight is more important than my mere reader's view. No. Instead, he wrote about what it is to be a fan of an author or a book. He told this story: My friend across the road saw Gardner in a drugstore in California once, recognized him from his jacket photo. He was looking at a boxing magazine. "Are you Leonard Gardner?" my friend asked. "You must be a writer," Gardner said, and went back to his magazine. I made my friend tell the story a thousand times. I loved that. And told the story already in a bar last night. And will again, to friends who love a special book, and talk about every paragraph ... one by one and over and over, the way couples sometimes reminisce about each moment of their falling in love. I tried, after that, to make Fat City be that book for me. But it wasn't. And I fall in love easily. But, ah there were moments: "All I need's a fight and a woman. Then I'm set. I get the fight I'll get the money. I get the money I'll get the woman. There's some women that love you for yourself, but that don't last long. Ernie?" Not a boxer, I can still feel that. Ernie? Take this outside the ring: As if in rebellion against his influence, they had succumbed to whatever in them was weakest, and often it was nothing he could even define. They lost when they should have won and they drifted away. Over the years he would see one around town. A few he read about in the newspapers--some fighting in other towns for other managers, one killed on a motorcycle, one murdered in New Orleans. They were all so vulnerable, their duration so desperately brief, that all he could do was go on from one to the other in quest of that youth who had all that the others lacked. It's the American Dream. Dropped in the desert in the middle of the night. No cut man. Best to break your nose in your first fight, so there's one less thing to worry yourself about the rest of your life. Ernie?

  7. 5 out of 5

    Rod

    If you're a writer, and if you're going to write just one novel over the course of your career, please try to make it as good as this one. If you're a writer, and if you're going to write just one novel over the course of your career, please try to make it as good as this one.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Toby

    Why haven't you heard of this book? I'm one to talk, owing my knowledge of Leonard Gardner to having recenty had the pleasure of watching John Huston's forgotten cinematic masterpiece that was adapted from it. So that's a forgotten movie and a forgotten book. And Gardner never published another novel. The novel becoming the perfect allegory for its own life in hindsight? Ernie Munger and Billy Tully are two amateur boxers, Ruben is their trainer. All three men have dreams of making it big, of a ha Why haven't you heard of this book? I'm one to talk, owing my knowledge of Leonard Gardner to having recenty had the pleasure of watching John Huston's forgotten cinematic masterpiece that was adapted from it. So that's a forgotten movie and a forgotten book. And Gardner never published another novel. The novel becoming the perfect allegory for its own life in hindsight? Ernie Munger and Billy Tully are two amateur boxers, Ruben is their trainer. All three men have dreams of making it big, of a happy life, none of them get it. There's not much more to the actual plot to add to a synopsis. There are a few ups but mostly downs, it's a largely depressing novel and beautifully written. Much like a kitchen sink drama there is not so much a completed journey feel to the story just a documentation of life and Gardner allows you to tag along for a while. Place Gardner alongside John Steinbeck, Nathanael West et al as a superb chronicler of the misery of the American people, the death of the American dream. Through a series of vignettes a portrait of emptiness and despair, of loss and desperation is completed with a bleak outlook and brutal honesty. The characters may well exist as boxers, that's their surface designation but there's no glamour in what they do, Gardner does not drift in to eulogising the pugilistic arts as many have done before and since; Ernie and Billy are all men and boxing is the metaphor for the toll life can take on you. "..... they succumbed to whatever in them was the weakest, and often it was nothing he could even define" Sometimes there's so much beauty in a book that could be missed, the content is depressing but the choice of words and the framing of them in this case make the experience of reading so much more than its content.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Jackson

    Denis Johnson rosetta stone, shifting mosaic of stunted lives, and tone poem about boxing, among other things.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Paul Ataua

    The careers of two boxers intersect, one at the beginning of his career and the other close to the end, but ‘Fat City’ is not really a boxing novel. The title comes from a saying that when you say you want to go to Fat City, it means you want the good life, and the novel is about their lives, lives that are far from good. Bloodied in the ring, trapped in relationships that crush, working in the fields for a pittance to make ends meet, and battling with the demon drink; these are the real core of The careers of two boxers intersect, one at the beginning of his career and the other close to the end, but ‘Fat City’ is not really a boxing novel. The title comes from a saying that when you say you want to go to Fat City, it means you want the good life, and the novel is about their lives, lives that are far from good. Bloodied in the ring, trapped in relationships that crush, working in the fields for a pittance to make ends meet, and battling with the demon drink; these are the real core of the novel. I loved the content, loved a lot of the descriptions, but it didn’t really come together as a story. It did, however, do enough to make me promise myself to watch the movie in the near future.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Gary

    The writing, the dialogue, the plot, the down-and-out characters with their demons--Leonard Gardner's Fat City is a total knockout. The writing, the dialogue, the plot, the down-and-out characters with their demons--Leonard Gardner's Fat City is a total knockout.

  12. 5 out of 5

    robin friedman

    Fat City Leonard Gardner's short novel, "Fat City", set in Stockton, California in the mid-1950's, appeared in 1969. Gardner wrote the screenplay for the movie, directed by John Huston, in 1972. The book remains in print in a series of novels based in California called "California fiction". I came upon this book by chance. It is little-known but a treasure. The book explores boxing and low life, faded dreams, lack of prospects, booze, rooming houses, failed relationships in a small California town Fat City Leonard Gardner's short novel, "Fat City", set in Stockton, California in the mid-1950's, appeared in 1969. Gardner wrote the screenplay for the movie, directed by John Huston, in 1972. The book remains in print in a series of novels based in California called "California fiction". I came upon this book by chance. It is little-known but a treasure. The book explores boxing and low life, faded dreams, lack of prospects, booze, rooming houses, failed relationships in a small California town. The two primary characters are Billy Tully and Ernie Munger. Billy at age 29 is a washed-up fighter who has lost his wife and several jobs and is sinking deeply into alcohol and oblivion. Ernie is 19 years old and a boxer who may have potential. He marries a young women named Faye, after getting her pregnant, and takes up the ring as a professional in order to support his wife and child. The paths of the two men cross in the gym at the beginning of the book and their careers take parallel courses. Billy had lost an important fight in Panama some years earlier when his manager, Ruben Luna, forced him to travel alone to Panama in order to save on expenses. He makes an attempted comeback at the age of 30 and actually wins a decision in a brutal match with an aging Mexican fighter. He returns to fighting to try to save himself from depression over the loss of his wife, his lack of prospects, and his loneliness. Ernie Munger is young and works at a gas station. Although he has some boxing potential, his skills appear limited. As had been the case with Tully years earlier, Ruben Luna sends Munger out of town, (to Las Vegas) for a fight to save on the expenses. This is Munger's first professional fight which proves more successful for him than did Tully's fight in Panama. The book ends darkly, but with a hint of the possibility of personal growth and true independence for Munger. "Fat City" describes compellingly bars, women, cheap hotels, training for fights, and fights themselves. It offers a picture of boxing at its seamiest which yet captures the fascination that this sport holds for many -- myself included. There are also many scenes in the book of the life of seasonal, agricultural workers in northern California. One of the most memorable portions of the book occurs when Tully and Munger sign on for day work in picking nuts. Tully climbs upon a ladder on a tractor and beats the nuts from a tree with a stick where they fall on Munger's head as he gathers them into a bag. The rage and the frustration of both men is palpable. Gardner writes with a spare understated style which does not moralize. The characters and their experiences speak for themselves. It is highly effective. The novel offers a picture of despairing men with small visions but also a real sense of underlying humanity, of hope, and of valuable, if fallen ideals. "Fat City" will be a rewarding novel for the reader who wants to go slightly off the routine path. Robin Friedman

  13. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    FAT CITY by Leonard Gardner is the story of Tully, a washed up fighter who lost his career as a result of sinking into the bottle after his wife left him. Tully meets up with a young man named Ernie training in a gym and invites him to go a few rounds of sparring, after which Tully gives him words of encouragement and tells him to get in touch with his old handler Ruben. Oma is a drunk Tully finds sitting at a bar, and they strike up a relationship that evolves into a situation where they live tog FAT CITY by Leonard Gardner is the story of Tully, a washed up fighter who lost his career as a result of sinking into the bottle after his wife left him. Tully meets up with a young man named Ernie training in a gym and invites him to go a few rounds of sparring, after which Tully gives him words of encouragement and tells him to get in touch with his old handler Ruben. Oma is a drunk Tully finds sitting at a bar, and they strike up a relationship that evolves into a situation where they live together in a dysfunctional relationship with alcohol being the glue that keeps them together, that is until Tully decides to clean up and resume his boxing career. Superb story in this book written by author Gardener, and the 1972 movie starring Stacy Keach and Jeff Bridges directed by John Huston is also excellent and does as well as a film can be expected to at condensing the story from the book while still staying true to the majority of what takes place in it. 5 stars.

  14. 4 out of 5

    J.M. Hushour

    If fists are your thing, and if their connecting points with both bone and soul is a concomitant obsession, then go buy some new pants and prepare to enter "Fat City". No, this isn't about the running battle against morbid obesity. Instead it's the terse, supple and yet streamlined story of two boxers, one a washout mixed up in alcoholism, whoring, and fruitpicking, and an up-and-comer who likes sex, hitting people, and sex. Despite sounding like a fun, if desperate, hoot, this novel is also abou If fists are your thing, and if their connecting points with both bone and soul is a concomitant obsession, then go buy some new pants and prepare to enter "Fat City". No, this isn't about the running battle against morbid obesity. Instead it's the terse, supple and yet streamlined story of two boxers, one a washout mixed up in alcoholism, whoring, and fruitpicking, and an up-and-comer who likes sex, hitting people, and sex. Despite sounding like a fun, if desperate, hoot, this novel is also about the crushing, inexorable bleakness of life. Noses are broken, but so are spirits. Sort of the Tony Danza of boxing novels: personable, but harboring a heart of darkness.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jordan West

    I shied away from this for years because of my complete lack of interest in boxing, but in the end I was pulled in by Gardner's masterful portrayal of the insanity of the sport and the inherent sadness of most everything else. I shied away from this for years because of my complete lack of interest in boxing, but in the end I was pulled in by Gardner's masterful portrayal of the insanity of the sport and the inherent sadness of most everything else.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Roberto

    Written at the end of the Sixties, but set in the Fifties world of boxing, boozing, skid row and bad relationships. It felt totally authentic and testosteroney, and i think i probably admired it more than loved it. There's an old boxing movie called The Set-Up and this made me want to re-watch that and it also made me grateful that i don't have to go peach picking, and that Sian isn't an alcoholic who taunts me in public. Written at the end of the Sixties, but set in the Fifties world of boxing, boozing, skid row and bad relationships. It felt totally authentic and testosteroney, and i think i probably admired it more than loved it. There's an old boxing movie called The Set-Up and this made me want to re-watch that and it also made me grateful that i don't have to go peach picking, and that Sian isn't an alcoholic who taunts me in public.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Tyler Jones

    Denis Johnson, one of my favourite authors, has often cited Fat City as the book that made him want to be a writer, and after finally getting around to reading it I can see why. Leonard, like Johnson, illuminates the lives of the under-privileged with empathy without getting sentimental. One senses that Leonard gets very close to the heart of the matter. Focusing on the lives of one boxer on his way down and another just starting his career, Leonard is able to create an over-all picture of what l Denis Johnson, one of my favourite authors, has often cited Fat City as the book that made him want to be a writer, and after finally getting around to reading it I can see why. Leonard, like Johnson, illuminates the lives of the under-privileged with empathy without getting sentimental. One senses that Leonard gets very close to the heart of the matter. Focusing on the lives of one boxer on his way down and another just starting his career, Leonard is able to create an over-all picture of what life was like for the vast majority of fighters. In our society a boxer, like a whore, is viewed only as a physical being. What a boxer's aspirations and values may be are irrelevant to society; only his ability to beat people up matters. By investing the lives of these men (even those who are self-destructive) with nobility and grace, Leonard gives us a truer understanding of our world than a typical champions story ever could. Unfortunately you are not likely to find Fat City on the shelves of a bookstore. Ask your local bookseller to order a copy in for you.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Victoria

    Fat City is a book so beautifully written that it seems at times far from its subject matter. One could see it as somehow cruelly inappropriate to use intricately crafted sentences writing about characters who by their very nature could never appreciate them. The characters are involved with amateur boxing, everyone hoping to earn a little money from either getting beaten up, beating someone else up, or training the fighters and arranging the bouts. When they're not fighting, the boxers get farm Fat City is a book so beautifully written that it seems at times far from its subject matter. One could see it as somehow cruelly inappropriate to use intricately crafted sentences writing about characters who by their very nature could never appreciate them. The characters are involved with amateur boxing, everyone hoping to earn a little money from either getting beaten up, beating someone else up, or training the fighters and arranging the bouts. When they're not fighting, the boxers get farm work by the day, miserably difficult and ill-paid, where they're subjected to insultingly dismissive treatment by the hiring team in their smelly trucks and by their employers. So when reading about a sometime-boxer picking onions in a field, half kneeling and half lying between the rows, we find: "Occasionally there was a gust of wind and he was engulfed by sudden rustlings and flickering shadows as a high spiral of onion skins fluttered about him like a swarm of butterflies. Skins left behind among the discarded tops swirled up with delicate clatters and the high, wheeling column moved away across the field, eventually slowing, widening, dissipating, the skins hovering weightlessly before settling back to the plowed earth. Overhead great flocks of rising and fall blackbirds streamed past in a melodious din." it's clear the workers aren't noticing the phenomenon so lovingly described, and how, and why, did we got taken away from the hard-working men of the story to this extravagantly lovely descriptive aside. And the effect is perhaps even more anomalous when such passages occur during the blood, sweat, violence, and anxiety of the boxing ring. It's a kind of authorial intrusion more distracting than the usual unidentified omniscient narrator telling the story. To its credit, Fat City ends on a note as unresolved as the lives of the young men of Stockton. And the story does hold our interest, is occasionally amusing. But questions of appropriate language and style do keep rising.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Piker7977

    Gritty and bleak. I suppose you could say that Fat City is about boxing. Nah. It's about the grind and hustling of poverty. Now we are getting closer. It's tough to support a family, drinking habits, and rent expenses when money is hard to come by. Perhaps it's relationships. Ding ding. I think we have a winner. What drives the main characters in Fat City is the urge to connect with the women of their lives. However, it is not the romance that concerns them. It is the jealousies, petty and big. Gritty and bleak. I suppose you could say that Fat City is about boxing. Nah. It's about the grind and hustling of poverty. Now we are getting closer. It's tough to support a family, drinking habits, and rent expenses when money is hard to come by. Perhaps it's relationships. Ding ding. I think we have a winner. What drives the main characters in Fat City is the urge to connect with the women of their lives. However, it is not the romance that concerns them. It is the jealousies, petty and big. It's disappointments that come with settling for someone who is simply available yet turning your circumstances into a boring desire. Anxiety comes with this when you worry that you are stuck with them for good. It also returns when you see their presence fleeting from your day to day. That is the theme that spoke to me the most. Another way to consider Fat City. Equal parts of Mailer, Steinbeck, Bukowski, Thompson, and Crumley. In other words, a great read.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Andy

    Fat City can be shelved somewhere in between Tom Waits records, Bukowski lit and early Cassavettes films. It's got that nighthawks at the diner feel to it. Of all the boxing novels I've read Leonard Gardner describes ringside action more lucidly than anyone else. I can actually understand what's going on in the match. Gardner's a great writer and I'm surprised he didn't produce many more works after this. He could've been a contender. Fat City can be shelved somewhere in between Tom Waits records, Bukowski lit and early Cassavettes films. It's got that nighthawks at the diner feel to it. Of all the boxing novels I've read Leonard Gardner describes ringside action more lucidly than anyone else. I can actually understand what's going on in the match. Gardner's a great writer and I'm surprised he didn't produce many more works after this. He could've been a contender.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

    I found this fascinating. It's all about the sustained miseries and brief thrills of boxers. It was published in '69, I think it is set in the late fifties. The details of the boxing life are gloomy, but they are not without grace and fine emotion. The main boxing trainer in this book, Ruben, has been training quitters for years, but his optimistic dialogue with his boxers breaks your heart (and makes you laugh). This book does not encourage you to root for anybody. It's not about championships. I I found this fascinating. It's all about the sustained miseries and brief thrills of boxers. It was published in '69, I think it is set in the late fifties. The details of the boxing life are gloomy, but they are not without grace and fine emotion. The main boxing trainer in this book, Ruben, has been training quitters for years, but his optimistic dialogue with his boxers breaks your heart (and makes you laugh). This book does not encourage you to root for anybody. It's not about championships. It's about how the boxers survived, or didn't. One illumninating portion details the journey of a boxing veteran traveling up from Mexico City to California by bus. Also the agony of fruit picking, tomato thinning, onion topping, nut shaking for wages (nuts seem like the best gig). And for some reason I'm always interested in what bars were like back in the day. It's in the same family as Fante's "Ask The Dust" and Bukowski's "Factotum", because it is set in California in the mid-twentieth century, and because it's a perceptive and funny book about melancholy. But it has much more emotional variety and perspective than those two books. I guess most people would find these types of books to be immensely depressing, but I find them strangely comforting. There's a part in this where a character wakes up in a stove used to burn trash. He's arguing with the guy who wants him to get out because he doesn't like his tone. "What's the matter with you? You don't even want to move when someone's going to light a fire under you?" I have a weakness for this stuff. It makes me laugh. I love that type of story.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Andy Weston

    First published in 1969 (and the only novel Gardner ever wrote) this is an insight into the life of a couple of boxers struggling to survive in 1950s Stockton. “Fat City” is old slang for prosperity and advantage—the good life. It is also the nickname for Stockton in its heyday of producing boxers. For aspiring fighters such as Billy Tully and Ernie Munger it’s a way out from a life of living in the seediest of hotels, fruit and nut picking to get by in the summer months, and hard drinking. At 2 First published in 1969 (and the only novel Gardner ever wrote) this is an insight into the life of a couple of boxers struggling to survive in 1950s Stockton. “Fat City” is old slang for prosperity and advantage—the good life. It is also the nickname for Stockton in its heyday of producing boxers. For aspiring fighters such as Billy Tully and Ernie Munger it’s a way out from a life of living in the seediest of hotels, fruit and nut picking to get by in the summer months, and hard drinking. At 29 Tully has retired from boxing after several unsuccessful bouts. When his wife leaves him he persuades himself to go back to the gym. Munger is a teenager with potential who Billy convinces to go to the gym. For much of the novel their two stories are separate ones. The third key character is Tully’s former promoter / trainer Ruben Luna. As with Tully and Munger, his existence is convincingly depicted. Don’t expect a tidy ending. Gardner provides a glimpse through a window into their life, and amongst his great skills are to show that their lives have no fairy tale outcome and go on long after we finish reading. Willy Vlautin’s Don’t Skip Out On Me was surely influenced by this. The two novels have real similarities and compliment each other excellently. In turn, Gardner must have been coloured by Jack London’s classic short story, A Piece Of Steak from 1909. The strength and beauty of the story (as with Vlautin) is that it is not depressing. Though the tale is dark, it is charged with energy. It is seductive, appealing, and has a vitality due to the ambition in its characters.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Carl R.

    Leonard Gardner's Fat City. is a close companion to Don Carpenter's 60's classic Hard Rain Falling, with its clean, clear prose and gritty setting. The novel is set in Stockton, CA, fifty miles from my doorstep and scarcely over a hundred miles from where I grew up in the Sacramento Valley, and it has the same ring of geographical authenticity and the same clean, clear prose that helped endear me to Hard Rain. I was further impressed with Both Carpenter and Gardner's ability to immerse themselve Leonard Gardner's Fat City. is a close companion to Don Carpenter's 60's classic Hard Rain Falling, with its clean, clear prose and gritty setting. The novel is set in Stockton, CA, fifty miles from my doorstep and scarcely over a hundred miles from where I grew up in the Sacramento Valley, and it has the same ring of geographical authenticity and the same clean, clear prose that helped endear me to Hard Rain. I was further impressed with Both Carpenter and Gardner's ability to immerse themselves and their readers in the world of their characters. An aside--They remind me of Ian McEwen in this respect. In Hard Rain, it was criminality and prison. Here, it is small-time boxing and agricultural labor. The hopes and dreams of fringe athletes, their trainers and managers, make for a yeasty storytelling. And when we follow the washed-up never-weres into the fields to trim onions and weed tomatoes, Gardner makes us feel every agonizing moment and the agonizing pain in every muscle of stoop labor from the hiring hall to the endless rows and hours under a punishing sun. Both the older, clearly done-for Billy Tully and the younger, more promising, Ernie Munger live on the edge. Tully has actually crossed over the edge, mired in days of alcohol and regret over a lost wife and lost loves. Munger's in somewhat better shape. He pulls down a small wage at a service station while pursuing his fights, and he manages to marry and produce a child, about which he is more or less happy. What the characters have in common besides their time in the ring and their ties to their manager is a total lack of insight into themselves or their situations. They drift without substantial goals, without capacity for joy or love. The result is a novel of unalloyed grimness. Hard Rain, despite its horrors, had soft touches. A real romance that generates hope in readers, even if it doesn't eventually pan out. Even the most intimate moments in Fat City, though, are fraught with angst to the point that one senses no real connection between the participants. Not that I ask for Disney joy and dancing from every book, but all ugly and no pretty or even chance of it seems a little much to ask of a reader. At least this one.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Robert Hobkirk

    It took about 2 months to get Fat City from the library, there was that much of a waiting list although the book was published back in 1969, so it wasn't like some recent highly promoted book that people just had to read because of all the rave reviews. Apparently it has a cult following. I read it before, several years ago. As I read it, some things came back to my memory like deja vu. This is the one and only novel by Gardner although he's made his living working as a writer for TV. He spent 4 It took about 2 months to get Fat City from the library, there was that much of a waiting list although the book was published back in 1969, so it wasn't like some recent highly promoted book that people just had to read because of all the rave reviews. Apparently it has a cult following. I read it before, several years ago. As I read it, some things came back to my memory like deja vu. This is the one and only novel by Gardner although he's made his living working as a writer for TV. He spent 4 years writing this relatively short novel. Maybe after the 4 years, he said to himself, not going to do that again. He knew what he was writing about. The setting is Stockton where he grew up, and he was an amateur boxer at one time. That's right, this this a boxing story set in Stockton. Unlike the fairy tale Rocky, the two main characters don't make the big time, don't get the girl, don't get respect. This book is a page turner. It moves fast. I think it could have been further filled out in spots, whole chapters instead of just paragraphs. The author seemed to be in a hurry in places. Slow down, man, you got ten rounds, no rush. Gardner hits you with a couple quick jabs; you get hit with a punch you never saw coming and years later you might want to go back into the ring and have another go round. I would have liked it if Gardner had written more novels because Fat City was that good.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    You know those evolution posters, where you get the silhouettes of apes transforming into a Cro-Magnon man into a human into a slacker with a surfboard (or whatever)? Fat City gives a portrait like that, only its characters each represent a stage in a certain kind of life. It is a novel of a time and place, Stockton CA in the 1950s, for a down-low segment of society--men scraping by on bad work, boxing, and a brand of love craved and despised. The novel is exquisite in its misery, honest to it You know those evolution posters, where you get the silhouettes of apes transforming into a Cro-Magnon man into a human into a slacker with a surfboard (or whatever)? Fat City gives a portrait like that, only its characters each represent a stage in a certain kind of life. It is a novel of a time and place, Stockton CA in the 1950s, for a down-low segment of society--men scraping by on bad work, boxing, and a brand of love craved and despised. The novel is exquisite in its misery, honest to its place and to the work the men do. And it spares no pain in portraying, quite perfectly I think, their bewildered sense of injustice done to them and the shocks of recognition over what they've done to themselves. Their desperate need for love, and their hate for the kind of people they find themselves worthy of, is awful, as is their misery when they find themselves staring down the barrel of the rest of their lives, alone. Kids, you can fuck up your life, and when you realize that, it might be too late to fix it, because fixing it would mean fixing yourself, and sometimes it's too late, you're just not up to it, and you understand that it's just going to keep going how it's going, and you have to take it because you can't do any better. Yikes.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Dax

    Billed as a boxing novel, “Fat City” is really a book about the hopeless; about men who have utterly lost their direction in life. Gardner’s strong pose is perfect for a story of this nature and his characters are fully developed. The overwhelming sense of gloom is almost too abundant, however, and there isn’t a single likeable character. Gardner’s writing is great, but the story is just okay. Meet in the middle and we’ll call it good.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Seth Austin

    I actually read this months ago but never got around to posting a review for reasons that are wholly arbitrary. Suffice it to say, I was thinking about it on the train last night and jotted down some brief thoughts that haven't been flattened in the slightest now that recency bias has worn off. The clearest object of Gardner’s thematic focus is revealed by a simple investigation into the meaning of his title, “fat city”. In a 1969 interview with LIFE magazine, he described his intended interpreta I actually read this months ago but never got around to posting a review for reasons that are wholly arbitrary. Suffice it to say, I was thinking about it on the train last night and jotted down some brief thoughts that haven't been flattened in the slightest now that recency bias has worn off. The clearest object of Gardner’s thematic focus is revealed by a simple investigation into the meaning of his title, “fat city”. In a 1969 interview with LIFE magazine, he described his intended interpretation: "Lots of people have asked me about the title of my book. It's part of Negro slang. When you say you want to go to Fat City, it means you want the good life. I got the idea for the title after seeing a photograph of a tenement in an exhibit in San Francisco. 'Fat City' was scrawled in chalk on a wall. The title is ironic: Fat City is a crazy goal no one is ever going to reach." There you have it. Fat City is entirely divorced from the cliched conventions of the boxer’s redemption tale; a hero’s quest that culminates in a final, triumphant victory. No, this is a novel about failure. Gardner couldn’t give a shit about the 1% who manage to escape the recursive cycles of poverty and socioeconomic repression and instead lends his pen to those who comprise the majority. Those are the people he considers himself in conversation with, the washed-up would-be boxers in Stockton with aspirational reaches that far exceeded their grasp. Day labourers and alcoholics who spend their evenings drowning failed dreams in foggy high ball glasses, sitting in whatever bar is closest to the bus stop they got off on. 'Where’s their redemption?' he asks. Not enough novels focus on failure, and it’s a rare pleasure to read one that conveys it with such honesty and sincerity. Read this goddamn book. “That period had been the peak of his life, though he had not realized it then. It had gone by without time for reflection, ending while he was still thinking things were going to get better.”

  28. 4 out of 5

    Cody

    Ripper: Mandrake? Mandrake: Yes, Jack? Ripper: Have you ever seen a Commie drink a glass of water? Mandrake: Well, I can't say I have. Ripper: Vodka, that's what they drink, isn't it? Never water? Mandrake: Well, I-I believe that's what they drink, Jack, yes. Ripper: On no account will a Commie ever drink water, and not without good reason. Mandrake: Oh, eh, yes. I, uhm, can't quite see what you're getting at, Jack. Ripper: Water, that's what I'm getting at, water. Mandrake, water is the source of all l Ripper: Mandrake? Mandrake: Yes, Jack? Ripper: Have you ever seen a Commie drink a glass of water? Mandrake: Well, I can't say I have. Ripper: Vodka, that's what they drink, isn't it? Never water? Mandrake: Well, I-I believe that's what they drink, Jack, yes. Ripper: On no account will a Commie ever drink water, and not without good reason. Mandrake: Oh, eh, yes. I, uhm, can't quite see what you're getting at, Jack. Ripper: Water, that's what I'm getting at, water. Mandrake, water is the source of all life. Seven-tenths of this earth's surface is water. Why, do you realize that seventy percent of you is water? Mandrake: Uh, uh, Good Lord! Ripper: And as human beings, you and I need fresh, pure water to replenish our precious bodily fluids. Mandrake: Yes. Ripper: Are you beginning to understand? Mandrake: Yes. Ripper: Mandrake. Mandrake, have you never wondered why I drink only distilled water, or rain water, and only pure-grain alcohol? Mandrake: Well, it did occur to me, Jack, yes. Ripper: Have you ever heard of a thing called fluoridation. Fluoridation of water? Mandrake: Uh? Yes, I-I have heard of that, Jack, yes. Yes. Ripper: Well, do you know what it is? Mandrake: No, no I don't know what it is, no. Ripper: Do you realize that fluoridation is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous Communist plot we have ever had to face? * * * * * * * * * * * * Anyone familiar with Dr. Strangelove has a soft spot for Sterling Hayden’s Col. Ripper. He’s a hilarious character that embodies all of the best worst qualities of an archetypal, macho male Americano: patriotic to a psychotic level, humorless, xenophobic, flouridophobic. Now the above quote, the "Commie" talk and such, has nothing to do with this book. The reason I included it? Because the entire time I read Fat City, I couldn’t get Ripper’s stentorian voice out of my head. Seriously. A book-on-tape of this by Hayden in-character would be a national treasure. The book is that sober. That’s not say that Fat City is bad by any means, just not really for me. It reminded me of Steinbeck (never a good thing, sorry), what with all the plaintive detailing of MidCal’s agriculture, “Mexican and Negro” fieldworkers, and spangle-browed sincerity. It is a Naturalist novel in extremis, with all the requisite socio-economic externalities that weigh on the characters given equal import as actors in the story. If you’re into that kind of thing, go for it—it certainly stands out from most of its brethren. But I want orotund, bombastic, sparkler-tracer-at-night prose that leaves impressions on my retinas. If I wanted to read about how bad-love-is-easy-to-do or the depravities of alcoholism in them's-the-facts fashion, I’d just re-read any Ray Carver story at-hand. I can’t imagine that anyone ever read this for the boxing, and if they did I assume they were disappointed. Which, hey, was a plus for me. Reading about boxing is like [ed.—insert Zappa "architecture" quote here]. Beyond the Naturalism and my predisposition away from it, Fat City just didn’t move me in any way. I simply didn’t care about the characters, plot...—not a single thing spoke to me. This is fine writing undoubtedly, compact and not without innate talent. Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that a 16-year-old me would've have appreciated it more than the Hermit at Middle Age. One last try: When it was over, I exhaled it like cigarette smoke. Gone.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    I learned a whole lot about writing from this book.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kurt Reichenbaugh

    Excellent novel about life in Stockton CA in the late fifties. Boxing, labor, love and hopelessness among the lives at the bottom rungs of the ladder of success. Short and powerful.

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