When writing my novel The Longest Fight I also wanted to know what other writers had to say about the sport. What I discovered was a whole sub-genre, 'Fighting Fiction.' The best works I found used this most physical of sports to reveal something deeper about us all - a desire to win, to remain standing at all costs. But a poignant truth shines through their fiction, that life isn't always a fair fight.
'Million Dollar Baby' by F.X. Toole
A short story, about a female boxer, from Toole's collection Rope Burns. The fight scenes reveal the horrendous injuries that can occur in the ring, but don't let this brutal reality put you off. A beautiful friendship between female fighter and male trainer also unfolds. The battered characters are lost and lonely, it is boxing that brings them together; providing companionship and redemption.
Fat City by Leonard Gardner
In contrast to 'Million Dollar Baby', this is a novel of gaping loneliness; the very landscape of rotten trees and sun bleached streets is suffused with it. The lack of dialogue tags can make it hard to follow at first, even putting the reader outside in the cold, but soon the rhythm will take you - like ducking punches. Tully, the main character, might be a winner in the ring but he's a loser in life. Each fight breaks a bit of his life apart until you will be rooting for him to lose, to walk away.
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
I'm about to break the first rule of Fight Club by talking about it. Pick a fight in this novel, any fight, and you'll be confronted with low down, dirty, underground scrapping; no Queensberry rules or skilful displays of technique amongst these men just raw rage on the page. The narrator isn't named, neither are the men in the fight club: ‘Only in death will we have our own names since only in death are we no longer part of the effort. In death we become heroes.’ But there are no heroes here, only men who feel impotent in the world they find themselves in, who are searching for a father figure, for a leader.
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Not a boxing story but with constant references to boxing and fight scenes throughout the novel. It is a story of black lives in 1940s America. This novel contains the most heartbreaking of fights. As a young boy the narrator is blindfolded and pushed into the ring to entertain a crowd of drunken white men, and fight for a school scholarship - a tragic moment of enlightenment when he first sees the prejudice in the world around him. Ellison's narrator is also unnamed, establishing him not just as an individual but as a voice of many; 'I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.'
The Professional by W.C. Heinz
is as close to sports reportage as you can come in fiction. A journalist tags
along to watch a fighter in training. What follows is a wearing regime of sparring
bouts, and physical endurance. You find yourself longing for the fight and the
big win. The monotony of the training regime is realistic, not all punch and glory
under the bright lights of the ring. All that training, all that preparation,
and no guarantee of a win - frighteningly true to life.
(Article originally published on We Love This Book)