Wednesday, 20 July 2011
One Man's Opinion: ONE TOO MANY BLOWS TO THE HEAD by ERIC BEETNER and J.B.KOHL
This morning I was in France, this evening the UK. It was great to be away and now it's good to be back.
We almost didn't make it to the plane, making it the latest in a series of traditions I hope my family can break next year.
At Nantes station, standing in front of the driver of the bus to the airport, it turned out we were 40 cents short of the 28 Euro required. We could have left one of the children behind or could have let the bus go, sorted out the cash flow situation and caught the next (jeopardising all chances of reaching the flight on time). In the end we didn't have to do either. A man, cool looking Camus lookalike in a pair of shades, stepped forward and passed a Euro to the driver. She smiled, we smiled and so did the man.
It was a small act of random kindness, the type of thing that keeps my faith in people spinning. I know I spend a lot of my writing time with my head in dark clouds and, indeed, that a lot of my general time is spent with medication as my umbrella, but the things that really give me a kick are the nice touches that often don't get talked about.
I'd like to thank that man for what he did even if the chances of him seeing this are as remote as those of me picking up the Booker. He did a great thing. Let's all go out and do great things, folks, bring a few smiles to the folk around you today.
De rien, he said. If I'd been quick enough I'd have given him a heartfelt 'au contraire'.
Anyway, it was a great break. Thanks Ali, Fab et famille for your hospitality and friendship.
One of the things that made my holiday such fun was my reading material.
One Too Many Blows To The Head has been on my must read pile for a while and I finally got around to it while we were away.
As far as I'm concerned, Eric and JB have offered enough kindness to the world in this one book to clear their slate for the rest of this year and the next.
Their book is sublime.
Set in the boxing world of 1939/40 it follows the lives of two characters, Ray Ward and Detective Dean Fokoli. They take alternate chapters to give their first-person accounts of what happened after the slaying of Ray's brother Rex in the ring.
Essentially Rex has been set up and Ray needs to get revenge. Fokoli is the man charged with the responsibility of cleaning up the mess to avoid a war between the mobs of Chicago and Kansas City.
Their lives that have strong parallels, though for now they seem to be working in reverse order. Ray has spent his whole life on the boxing scene and has always tried to be as good as he could; it's only with the death of his brother that he releases the demons he's kept buried. Fokoli, on the other hand, has spent his working life on the take, a cop in the pockets of the mob; it's only in recently that he has seen the light and has turned his back on corruption and back-handers.
Not that it really matters which way these guys try to go, for it seems inevitable that they're both completely on the skids whatever happens.
It's a simple idea, I suppose, but it's so brilliantly written that every page is a joy. I had the need to race through the plot and yet to savour the language and the atmosphere created at one and the same time. Somehow I think I was able to do both.
I rate it so highly because it picks many of my soft spots and exploits them with sucker punches.
The two main guys are tough men. Macho guys who can fell a sturdy opponent with a solid blow or a well-placed knee. Their lives are messed up, their loyalties strong (if sometimes misplaced), they speak in quips and lurk in shadows.
They're supported by a list of characters who play their parts perfectly. Seedy landlords, drunken bums, prostitutes, victims, bartenders, cops and robbers all bring an array of shades to the piece.
It has one of the best atmospheres and scenes that I've come across in a good while. In my head it was all black and white like the films of the time. I could smell the rings and the gyms, I kid you not, had a sense of the racial tensions and segregation, felt the blows as they came in, understood the need to start the day with a shot of the hard stuff. I was with them every step of the way and loved the journey they took me on.
Strung throughout, like pearls on a string, are the boxing tips of Ray's father (all the philosophies Ray has seem to come from boxing):
'Pop always told us that if you get into a fight outside the ring, you don't want to play it for the decision. You hit that guy until he goes down and you hit him so he'll stay down. Only thing worse than a guy who is pissed off to come at you in the first place is a guy who's doubly pissed because now you hit him.'
and sharp lines:
'There was a dead plant in a pot by the window. I figured it for a suicide.'
'Memory lane is a dangerous street to walk down.'
and they use objects to tell a story with a simply turned phrase:
'I banged on the window with my wedding ring. It was still good for something.'
The book's a collaboration between two people who haven't actually met. How they produced something so seamless is impossible to tell. I looked for the joins and couldn't spot a single one. What I know they managed was to cut out any waste and perfected their use of words as they worked. If collaboration is this good, then I'm going to try getting in touch with some of my hidden personalities to see what we can come up with.
It's a book that might well have turned out as a painting-by numbers exercise; instead these guys have produced a masterpiece.
An absolute gem.
One Too Many Blows To The Head is available as a Kindle book.