three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
25-Nov-Dec-2006
By: 
F. X. Toole
user_rating: 
0

A-Pound for PoundDan Cooley isn’t exactly washed up, but he’s long past his days in the boxing ring. He has forged a living by training fighters in his Los Angeles gym, but that quickly unravels when a tragic turn of events involving his grandson sends Cooley on an alcohol-fueled road trip with no destination. Chicky Garza is also fighting for his life as an amateur boxer in Texas. Awed by the boxing legacy of his grandfather and undermined by the inequities of the fight game, Garza sets out for Los Angeles to be trained by an old foe of his granddad: Dan Cooley.
Ecco. 384 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 006088133X

Hartford Courant 4 of 5 Stars
"Those who know of Toole only through [Million Dollar Baby’s] muted tones will be stunned to discover that his first and final novel, Pound for Pound, pulses with energy and life. … He renders a vivid depiction of a sport so far beyond corrupt that only the naive bother to question the dishonesty any more, and only the fortunate escape with their lives and faces unharmed." Matt Eagan

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"There is plenty of pugilistic lore, but boxing is the setting, not the subject. For Toole the sport is a laboratory where human fiber is tested, dissected, and displayed under crisis conditions." Katherine Dunn

Charlotte Observer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"He’s also the most illuminating fiction writer I know when describing the skills and chicanery of the fight game." Lawrence Toppman

Seattle Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[Pound for Pound is] an engaging, sometimes riveting book that also includes long swaths of prose that sound almost like notes for a novel." Richard Wakefield

USA Today 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Pound for Pound is more sprawling and ultimately less tragic than Million Dollar Baby but shares many of the same themes and attention to sweet and sweaty details. … The most vivid character is Dan Cooley, an aging, self-destructive trainer and an even darker version of Eastwood’s character in the movie." Bob Minzesheimer

Los Angeles Times 3 of 5 Stars
"As a novel, though, Pound for Pound is like a promising career cut short by misfortune. Read it for its touching conviction, for the bits that work almost as stories on their own—and muse as you might on the record of some classy fighter who had the heart but not the luck and never quite got his shot." Tim Rutten

Critical Summary

With unexpected twists and even more unexpected emotional largesse, this unfinished novel stands toe-to-toe with some of the best writing on boxing. Pound for Pound reaches bookshelves four years after its author’s death. Better known in the boxing world by his given name, Jerry Boyd, F. X. Toole came to the attention of most folks for his collection of short stories Rope Burns (2000). Published when Toole was in his 70s, a longer piece in the collection served as screenplay grist for Clint Eastwood’s Oscar-winning film, Million Dollar Baby. Toole never saw the film—he passed away before it was released—but he left behind more stories, including the 900-page manuscript from which Pound for Pound was whittled. The majority of critics find the book inherently imperfect but overflowing with the magic that brought the ripe talent of Toole to the public’s attention.

Supplemental Reading

The Gloves A Boxing Chronicle | Robert Anasi: 4 of 5 Stars Summer 2002. At age 33, with only one year of eligibility left, writer Anasi decided to train for the New York City Golden Gloves amateur boxing tournament.