The FighterThe Fighter by Michael Farris Smith
My rating: 5/5 cats
One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

i think if i had read this under different circumstances, i would have appreciated it more. this is a short book that probably benefits from a one-or-two sitting read, rather than how i read it – over the course of nearly two weeks of 4 am commutes, waiting rooms, a hospital bed, post-op haze – all by a very distracted reader who selfishly let her own problems loom larger than that those of the character’s, who objectively has it much worse than me. i thought i was doing the smart thing by choosing a short book for Cancer 2 – The Recancering™, instead of some massive 700-page epic with maps and family trees and sprawling storylines, but i think that would actually have been easier to latch onto that this small, tight, slick little story which doesn’t have any fat to chew on and you need to watch every word – there’s no room for woolgathering/moping in your own sorrows here.

it’s a shame, because i’ve been meaning to read this guy for a while, and it’s ordinarily the kind of thing i would adore – gritty, shitty, fighty, full of bad decisions and regrets and the kind of backwoods ethics i dig, where scores are settled without involving any outside parties; eye for an eye/pound of flesh, all the good old exchanges with harsher penalties for breaking a “law” than anything a courtroom can dish out.

it’s got a down-on-his-luck antihero in jack boucher; a battered bare-knuckled cage fighter whose years of physical abuse have left him with a pill habit, a rattling of memories scattered by intense migraines, and debts he cannot pay. he’s been caught in a downward spiral, making bad decisions, scrambling to correct those decisions with short-term solutions that bring him deeper troubles, more shame, more people eager to see him fail, while his foster mother maryann – the only person who has ever mattered to him, is in a hospice, afflicted with dementia, not recognizing him nor aware that he is about to lose the family home and land she’d signed over to him.

the slim little book is split between jack and annette, the alluring former stripper/current tattooed lady in a traveling carnival, who is considering the next step in her voyage of self-discovery when she finds something jack has lost, planting a new set of crossroads in front of her.

i was hooked by the beginning, but whether it was because of my suboptimal attention span or the book itself, i felt warm-not-hot about it by the end. one of the main tracks of this book is annette and her belief in “the church of coincidence,” and while i’m not looking to be dismissive of anyone’s faith, this story was just a bit too dependent upon coincidence for my tastes. it made it feel, i don’t know, mythic maybe? something more posed than warmblooded, where unlikely things happen, paths cross, characters who represent ideas/choices/conflicts meet because they must, temptation is writ in capital letters, and o – that hubris, o – that achilles heel. there’s even a variation of the greek chorus in the final sequence, and a tone slightly less gritty than i’ve come to expect in my grit lit. this is by no means gentle, but it’s also not outright brutal. it’s somewhere in the middle of the two, and it’s exactly in the middle of my five-star allotment. i’m still interested in reading more by this guy, and i have two more books of his here to explore, this was just a badly-timed read on my part, so regrets and apologies all around.

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