The Fighter, by Craig Davidson

coverNormally when I hear about a contemporary book and read it and love it, I then go out and discover that it has 700 Amazon reviews and that everyone in the world has already heard about it, but in this case it was different. The Fighter only has eleven reviews on Amazon (twelve, as soon as mine is posted), so I am going to actually go ahead and review it.

This is a pretty good book.

In most of the online reviews, it gets compared to Fight Club, because it has a similar theme: a young man who feels trapped by life and decides to escape by participating in unregulated brawling.

But where this book is different is that it embraces the reality of its premise. The fighting is not a symbol. The fighting is not a stand-in or precursor to societal change. The fighting is actually just fighting.

And the fighting is brutal.

This is a book that looks at what it means to be a person who fights for fun.

First of all, it doesn’t shy away from physical details: the ravages of steroid use; the damage to brain, nerves, ears, face, nose, and internal organs. This is a book that looks at what it means to punch and be punched by people.

Secondly, it’s also a book that’s curiously ambivalent about its main character. Paul is a rich scion who gets beaten up outside a bar one day, and then decides that he’s going to go out and become a brawler himself. And, in the end, we do see him transformed into a more effective and more alive person. But we also wonder about it. Because his transformation is a purely personal and purely selfish thing: it ravages his family and harms other people and, in the end, is of really no consequence to the world at large.

This book is about a guy who mounts a quest for self-actualization without ever thinking about whether the world requires him to be actualized.

And the book is very aware of this dichotomy, which is why it includes a subplot relating to another up-and-coming fighter who’s struggling with his role and wondering whether this is what he should do with his life.

Actually, if I had any criticisms about the book, it’d be about this secondary plot. It’s just not as interesting as the main plot. And it feels so purely tacked on in order to provide a foil for the main character that, at times, it felt like an imposition to have to get through the secondary-guy chapters. But, oh well, nothing’s perfect.

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