Monday, July 11, 2016

Fight Stories: One Fist Was Irish

Larry Holden’s One Fist Was Irish is pretty much A River Runs Through It, with boxing substituting for fly fishing.

Barney Nolan is a decent raspberry farmer and a great boxer.  A gentle man, he only ever fights to raise money for the farm, which he continues to manage as much for love of farming as out of obligation to his older brother, Vince.
In their younger days Vince tormented the younger brother until one day Barney’s temper got the better of him, and a flung rock put out the eye of his older brother.  As adults, Vince continues to torment Barney by using that guilt as leverage to force Barney to do the heavy lifting around the farm and to bail Vince out of trouble atound town.
Things come to a head when Barney hospitalizes four Androille brothers looking to exact revenge on Vince for despoiling their younger sister.
The two brothers hop a tramp steamer to work and fight their way through Panama to Philadelphia where Barney can fight professionally until the heat dies down and they can return home.  On the boat ride Vince maneuvers Barney into throwing a fight in order to save Vince from trouble, the first mate’s career, and the crew’s ourses from Vince.  Satisfied that he has Barney’s number, Vince hatches a plan to maneuver him into throwing a fight in Philadelphia.
First though, Barney has to work his way up to a big purse.  While doing so, Vince steals the wife of Barney’s manager, and manipulates Barney into staying in Philly long after they could have safely returned home.  He even manages to use his guilt-lever to ensure Barney wins his preliminary fights by tricking Barney’s foes into mentioning the accident that cost him his eye.  Every mention sends Barney into a berzerker rage that leaves his opponent on the mat.
The last fight of the tale, Barney enters the ring believing that the only way to save his brother is to throw the fight.  To add to his burden, his manager has convinced him that his only hope of winning the fight is to play to his weak left hand.  Unbeknownst to Barney his manager has bet against him in an effort to win back his bride.
A sudden appearance of the despoiled Androille sister ringside reveals Vince’s treachery and triggers a last minute change of heart by Barney’s manager.  Which still leaves the matter of winning a fight that Barney has mistrained for and in which he has already thrown the first two rounds.
As expected, the story is one of relationships, and specifically relationships between men.  The love-hate between brothers, the respect of competitors, the paternal concern of bosses and mentors, all make an appearance.  It would take some world class piling higher and deeper of the Phd variety to find anything untoward in this story.  It’s just normal guys doing what normal guys do. 

Maybe that's why the ivory tower types have such disdain for this type of literature - as abnormal guys, they simply can't recognize value in telling the stories of people who aren't just like them.  As damaged people they prefer stories about damaged people.  That is understandable, but their insistence that they have a monopoly on quality stories is proven wrong by this engaging story.
It’s not high literature.  The narrative wanders a bit in the iddle stretches.  The heel lacks all nuance.  A few small touches might have improved the payoff.  As narratives go, though, it delivers.  For a throw away story in a cheap magazine, this is a damn fine story.  Today’s world could use more like it.

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