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Fat City (California Fiction) Paperback – 1996


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Product Details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: University of California Press (1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520206576
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520206571
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.3 x 21 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 204 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #912,618 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Robin Friedman on June 19 2003
Format: Paperback
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 is about 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.
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Format: Paperback
Billy Tully and Ernie Munger are two young men living in the Northern California delta town of Stockton. Their world is the violent one of boxing, but their struggles for survival are more universal than just any conventional story about men battling professionally in the squared circle. You do not have to be a fight fan to appreciate this arresting work.
Leonard Gardner has followed the rule of thumb laid down years ago of "Write what you know." Gardner grew up in Stockton and knows the lower middle class world he describes with graphic brilliance. He was an amateur boxer, giving him a knowledge of how men struggle to survive in that competitive and highly dangerous world.
Gardner's story craft is straight out of Albert Camus, in many ways reminiscent of his epic novella, "The Stranger." His descriptions of dingy bars and dreary hotel rooms ring with clarity, transferring readers to a world of existential survival where some cling to hope while others have long since given up.
Tully was on the verge of being a contender but lost a major fight, hit the bottle, and quit boxing. He got a job as a short order cook. After going to the local high school gym to work out he meets Ernie Munger. At 18 Ernie is eleven years Tully's senior. He becomes so impressed by Munger's moves that he recommends that he visit Lido Gym and look up his former manager. When Munger begins boxing amateur Tully's interest increases and he is motivated to launch a comeback.
Tully and Munger seek extra money by working as field pickers under a broiling sun.
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Format: Paperback
It really is. I have read, I'd guess, 250-300 novels by contemporary writers since I read a glowing review of FAT CITY in a San Francisco newspaper years ago, sometime in the early 1970s, and bought the novel, mainly because I was brought up in San Jose, California, and wondered what could a writer find in the humble tank town of Stockton to write about. When I finished reading it I just looked out the window, so moved was I by the characters in the novel, and by Gardner's storytelling prowess. And to this day -- going on 28 years later -- I swear that I have not read a contemporary novel that has affected me as profoundly as FAT CITY did, and still does whenever I reread it, which is every year or two. Gardner's craft is wonderful to read -- the cadences of his sentences are gorgeous; you find yourself wanting to read it out loud to yourself, just to relish the drum beat of the syllables. (The only other writer I can think of who constructed sentences that way in English is Joseph Conrad.) Gardner's understanding of his characters, and of human nature, makes you shake your head and smile, even as his characters are blindly reeling toward sad destinies. This is American literature of the finest kind -- and though Gardner has not published a novel since FAT CITY in 1969, I know that a whole lot of people hope that he will again. He has the gift and this novel is proof.
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Format: Paperback
Like a boxer who has complete confidence in every move he makes, Gardner constructed a novel about small-city life that never takes a wrong step or strikes a false note. The setting is the northern California town of Stockton; the subject is the ordinary men and women operating on the fringes of society: living, working and drinking hard, they face a life of limited opportunity, yet somehow they persist, refusing to be defeated by the many obstacles they face.
The main characters are boxers: Billy, who at 29 is all but washed up, decides to try it in the ring one more time. Ernie, young and confident, enjoys limited success, but it's clear his future in the ring is limited at best. Between bouts they take day laborer jobs in the fields and orchards that support the Stockton community. The scenes that describe the work in the fields and the bus trips to small-time fights are beautifully drawn in spare, unsentimental prose of the highest order.
This novel is a classic of American realism. Gardner catches with uncanny clarity the drudgery of the work required to keep our land of plenty churning out the goods that we expect and take for granted. Its general tone is bleak, yet that tone is leavened with a deadpan humor and -- most importantly -- a genuine respect for his characters.
It's unfortunate for us as readers that Gardner didn't write more. On the other hand, he accomplished much with this work, and I believe that we can find his influence in contemporary writers such as Thom Jones and Elwood Reid.
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