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Featured boxing book:|
JERRY VLAUTIN, Don't Skip Out on Me.
This is a tremendous boxing novel. Jerry Vlautin’s compelling tale of Horace Hooper, a Paiute Indian with an unlikely name, offers many stories within the story of Horace. The novel is, first, a tale about a young outsider, a ranch hand who sees success in the ring as a way to win acceptance, respectability, and love. Preparing to leave the ranch, Hopper puts it best as he talks to Mr. Reese, his employer and surrogate father: “I have to become a champion, don’t you see? I have to prove that I’m someone before I come back. I’m not anything right now, Mr. Reese. I’m nothing but a failure. You must see it. You must see it every time you look at me” (123).
Mr. Reese, the focus of the book’ second story, does not see Horace that way at all. Reese is a Nevada sheep rancher who, with Mrs. Reese, raised Horace and prizes him as a great ranch-hand and would-be son. Reese is both gentle and firm. When a local businessman makes fun of Horace, Reese walks out of the store and starts doing business elsewhere. There are other characters, including the boxing coach Ruiz, their chaotic lives sketched by Vlautin with just enough detail to make each the center of his or her own narrative world.
Ashamed of his Native American identity and his lack of accomplishment, Horace aspires to be taken for a Mexican, even though he cannot speak Spanish. He tries to eat Mexican food (but dislikes it because it is spicy) and tries to look and dress Mexican, right down to modeling his haircut on that of Eric Morales, the famous Mexican boxer. A young man of great aspirations, Horace is misguided in many things. He is at a loss for teachers, mentors, and guides to adult life. A fan of self-improvement programs, he draws inspiration from a “BOAT” book (“Believe, Overcome, Aspire, Triumph”) that advises readers to “test your boat” by letting “the bricks . . . protect you” (p. 162). Bricks and boats? This is not a happy combination, even for a boxer.