Leonard Gardner’s “Fat City” is a novel about two boxers from Stockton, California, but to say it’s a novel about boxing would be misleading. Very few of the novel’s 191 pages take place in the ring. Instead, it is the story of Ernie Munger, an up-and-coming boxer, and Billy Tully, a boxer trying to find his way back into the ring.
Billy and Ernie have a brief encounter at the gym where they spar. Afterward, Billy tells Ernie that he should look up his old trainer, Ruben Luna, which he does. Ernie has a couple of fights, then gets his girlfriend pregnant and decides to throw in the towel — though his retirement is short-lived. During this time, Billy is working as a manual laborer, spending most of his days thinking about how he is going to make a comeback.
Even though Billy and Ernie are the main characters in the novel, they spend very little time together. Instead, the reader gets a contrasting view of former boxer and aspiring boxer, which is both beautiful and disheartening. The reader never gets a sense that either Billy or Ernie think they are going to be world champions. Instead, it would seem that boxing is the best opportunity that Stockton, California, has to offer.
I would recommend this novel not just to boxing fans, but also to fans of sports and sports writing. “Fat City” is both literary and easily accessible. This is a must read for fans of noire. Simply put, this novel is beautiful. CV