George Foreman and the Business of Boxing
Andrew R. M. Smith’s comprehensive study of two-time heavyweight champion George Foreman, and of the sport of boxing during his long career, is No Way but to Fight.
Foreman, a poor middle school dropout, discovered his punch on the streets of Houston’s Fifth Ward. He went on to a roller-coaster career as a knockout artist before finding a “softer incarnation” as a cuddly television salesman. Within this frame, the book also traces a golden age of boxing.
The book pulls no punches in bringing forth the fighter and the man. Portrayed first as a big, clumsy bully with no boxing skills, and later as a puncher with an ineffective jab, Foreman built his record by beating up on nobodies. He became heavyweight champion with little more than a devastating knockdown blow. But after the loss of his crown and a frustrated comeback attempt, Foreman matured. He found religion and learned to promote himself before earning another championship belt at the age of forty-five.
Not for lightweight readers, this biography, which grew out of a doctoral dissertation, is based on extensive research. It contains many notes, including input from sports historians and interviews with ring notables and Foreman himself. Still, it will find its audience among fight fans in the reading public. Its analysis reaps insights and dispels misconceptions, bringing forth little-known details about the great fighters of Foreman’s era. It’s a contextual biography not only about Foreman, but about wrangling over venues, promotional tactics, training strategies, and the politics, culture, and racial background of boxing from the seventies through the nineties.
While No Way but to Fight cannot be called a tell-all or an intimate portrait, it includes not only a rags-to-riches tale but a profile of a man who transcended his early challenges and image to become a happy, religious, and successful salesman and father.
JOE TAYLOR (December 27, 2019)
Lies, misconceptions and self-deception are at the heart of Miriam Cohen’s funny, scathing, and touching collection Adults and Other Children. Following the fortunes of girls as they navigate the perilous road to adulthood, Cohen’s interconnected stories grapple with the preoccupations of modern middle-class life—fidelity, careers, starting a family—and how it’s all too easy to fool yourself and others.
From the opening story, “Naughty,” in which the lead character spins a web of imaginary monsters and nannies to mask her mother’s affair with the next-door neighbor, Cohen’s tales are coated with unease as innocence collides with reality. Decay and death are never far. Individual stories tackle bulimia, rare diseases, and rumored serial killers. When the heroines aren’t coping with loser boyfriends and lecherous bosses, they’re dealing with the fallout from their own messed-up families, wherein the adults are just as clueless as the kids.
Some of the stories lean sardonic. In “Expecting,” a teacher covers up her alcoholism by pretending to be pregnant, resulting in a comic series of misunderstandings and misplaced sympathies. In “Odd Goods,” a professor contends with condescension and subtle harassment before she turns the tables on her oppressor with an outright lie. Other entries in the collection are more delicate and poignant, such as “Old for Your Age, Tall for Your Height,” in which schoolchildren are forced to spend playtime with a developmentally disabled classmate, leading to a bittersweet epiphany about growing up.
The second half of the book focuses on three women as they confront their ticking biological clocks, but even as the freewheeling days of youth give way to the melancholic realities of adulthood, Cohen maintains her fleet style, her stories peppered with wry observations and off-center, ribald humor. Sometimes raw and always entertaining, her collection is a pleasure.
HO LIN (December 27, 2019)
Susan May Warren’s Christian romance The Way of the Brave applies a razor-sharp eye to a suspenseful climb of Denali and its characters’ private wars.
Orion is a former pararescue jumper who served in Afghanistan. Jenny is a psychologist and former CIA profiler who once posed as Jacie, a reporter embedded in Orion’s unit. They were falling for each other when a failed mission—in which Jenny shared blame—led Jenny to flee in guilt.
When Jenny and her friends decide to scale Denali to prove their strength, Orion, with fellow veterans Ham and Jake, is tasked with rescuing them. Injuries, falls, altitude sickness, and avalanches become a powerful metaphor for Christian faith: here, there’s no guarantee that life won’t bring sorrow, and there’s absolute belief in God’s character and goodness.
Tension mounts around the inevitable disclosure of Jenny’s role in the mission that injured Orion. Alternating perspectives, cliffhangers, and new challenges add up to a wise plot in which most of the climbers learn how to accept God’s help. With fluid character progressions and themes of releasing anger and fear, the novel frames its message in a natural way.
Harrowing background stories—including a parent’s murder—spring into the plot as added fuel to the characters’ troubles, but are not always integrated well. A subplot regarding terrorism pulls the focus away from Denali, though it brings out Orion and his friends’ military instincts and desire to protect others. Ham is a standout character—the book’s voice of reason and unwavering faith.
In The Way of the Brave, Denali’s glittering wilderness is lucidly described; it’s a heartening backdrop for a tale of bravery whose characters confront the hidden sides of themselves and work toward honesty.
KAREN RIGBY (December 27, 2019)
Haunted and haunting, Yelena Moskovich’s Virtuoso shifts through gradients of the past and the present, capturing the tumult and change of the 1990s and early 2000s in Czechoslovakia, the US, and France. Told through multiple unique, compelling voices, the book’s time and action are layered, with possibilities and paths forming rhythmic, syncopated interludes that emphasize that history is now.
Jana, Zorka, and Aimée are the novel’s three main conductors. As each of these cusp millennials goes from a pre-internet world to worldwide connection, awareness of the effect of technology and globalization on relationships and social networks creeps in. Whether through chatroom transcripts wherein queer women find and flirt with each other, or through passages that are separated and strung together by asterisks, the book straddles a divide; everything is both dependent and an aside.
Context becomes everything and nothing as Virtuoso dismantles ideas of childhood, home, linearity, and the physical and emotional locations of relationships. These ideas are intertwined, as sinuous as are hearts and bodies. Characters are both symbols and signifiers in the drama, shifting from the background to the foreground across the story’s arcs. Laconic riffs go to unexpected places, creating a hypnotic landscape where love between women results in its own timeline. The world becomes a web where loss is foundational, but nothing and no one is ever truly gone.
Even as it employs dream logic to assemble its narratives, there’s hyperreality to Virtuoso‘s emotional beats. The novel unfolds in a blue haze where we’re “betrayed by language…people are just people, and we let them come and go.” Each person’s escape velocity forces reader attention to orbit that which connects people to each other and to their moments in time.
LETITIA MONTGOMERY-RODGERS (December 27, 2019)
Death has never been quite so uplifting as it is in Welcome to the Pine Away Motel and Cabins, Katarina Bivald’s feel-good novel about a friendly ghost who’s determined to repair relationships from the not-far beyond.
Henny always assumed that there’d be more to death than this, but here she is: still in her hometown; still in her once-favorite polka dot blouse; and still immersed in drama. So Henny, who’s always edged optimistic, decides to devote her lingering time to doing what she does best: bringing folks together.
There’s much to repair. Before she died, Henny reconnected with Michael, her first love, who fled Pine Creek after high school. Many in town assumed that she and her best friend, MacKenzie, were lovers; they find MacKenzie less tolerable without Henny as a buffer. Throw in Henny’s set-in-his-ways father and a returning friend, Camilla, and the stage is set for blow-ups.
Pine Creek, which boasts more churches than bars, has an unhappy history of being hostile to its LGBTQ citizens. When the motel, whose owners stand against hateful measures, becomes the focus of the churchgoers’ ire, MacKenzie, Camilla, and Michael fight to preserve it. It’s a battle that draws outsiders in and that exposes the biases that undergird Pine Creek’s cozy façade. Henny whispers encouragements into the ears of those whom she loves, hoping to effect reconciliation, but harmony is hard coming with people’s pride in the way.
This is a small-town story, but it’s bright with examples of LGBTQ allyship. MacKenzie may be pushed toward an unfair middle ground with the community, but no one drops Camilla’s dead name, and that’s a happy, if unlikely, grace. The book strikes a tenuous balance when it comes to the conflict, but its outcomes are breezy and hopeful. By checkout time, Welcome to the Pine Away Motel and Cabins has cemented itself as a lighthearted delight.
MICHELLE ANNE SCHINGLER (December 27, 2019)