Friday Staff Pick: Fat City

Recommended by Peter, City Lights Books

Fat City is a vivid novel of allegiance and defeat, of the potent promise of the good life and the desperation and drink that waylay those whom it eludes. Stockton, California, is the setting: the Lido Gym, the Hotel Coma, Main Street lunchrooms and dingy bars, days like long twilights in houses obscured by untrimmed shrubs and black walnut trees. When two men meet in the ring—the retired boxer Billy Tully and the newcomer Ernie Munger—their brief bout sets into motion their hidden fates, initiating young Munger into the company of men and luring Tully back into training. In a dispassionate and composed voice, Leonard Gardner narrates their swings of fortune, and the stubborn optimism of their manager, Ruben Luna, as he watches the most promising boys one by one succumb to some undefined weakness; still, “There was always someone who wanted to fight.”

A slim, taut book that has earned its status as a classic by dint of its immaculate, evocative prose, a compassionate but dour view of the human condition, and the absolute credibility of its depiction of the sport of the busted beaks…Though Fat City was written long before cellphones or the Internet, its human apparatus is state of the art. With this new edition, new generations of readers and writers will discover it, learn from it, and find both wincing pain and deep pleasure. Gardner’s achievement lives on precisely because Fat City is not depressing. The tale is dark, but it is charged with energy. It is seductive, engaging, and lit, despite the odds, by a vitality that is in itself a form of hope. We come away from it burnt clean.
—Katherine Dunn, Slate

In his pity and art Gardner moves beyond race, beyond guilt and punishment, as Twain and Melville did, into a tragic forgiveness. I have seldom read a novel as beautiful and individual as this one.
—Ross Macdonald

Set in the bars, buses, gyms, and transit hotels of gritty, fifties’ era Stockton, California, Fat City is a perfect document, mapped and studied, the dialogue memorized, by generations of writers. The well-known film (written by Gardner for John Huston), only approaches the spare timelessness of Gardner’s prose.
—Jayne Anne Phillips

Gardner has got it exactly right… but he has done more than just get it down, he has made it a metaphor for the joyless in heart.
—Joan Didion

Really a superior performance… Gardner takes us into the bitter fancies of two professional prizefighters… the first is a has-been, the second is learning to lose. A third character, their manager, links the pair in defeat and frustration… Gardner strips them of everything except the most important thing: their singularity… of such a seemingly small gift is dignity born and success measured.

City Lights in conjunction with the Film Noir Foundation and NYRB Books present:

Leonard Gardner in conversation with Eddie Muller

Thursday, September 17, 2015, 7:00 P.M., City Lights Booksellers, 261 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco

More info here

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