You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘The Iron Man’ tag.

Some preamble: I was fairly daunted when I was asked to jump in and cover A Book A Day… for a post. As a habitual reader of his site, I was intent on ensuring that I got the full Emmet O’Cuana experience by following the house rules and reviewing a book that I had completed over the course of a twenty-four hour period (this was despite Emmet giving me close to a month’s notice to put this post together). With that, I diligently set about settling down to enjoy Fred Hoyle’s science-fiction standard The Black Cloud; before abandoning it in a fit of disinterest as I moaned to my wife about ‘diagrams having no place in a novel’. I’m being harsh – The Black Cloud is undoubtedly a good book, but I was struggling to keep focussed on it enough to finish it in a day.

With this realisation, things were looking grim for my contribution to ABADTICS (which is a great acronym), and I soared dangerously and embarrassingly close to turning in a review of Ted Hughes’ The Iron Man, knowing that I could at least cover it in one afternoon, possibly fifteen minutes if I didn’t stop for tea and biscuits. Scanning my book shelves, I was drawn to John Colapinto‘s About the Author – a book I picked up in my teens, read once and then recommended to everyone else for the next eleven years. For all the books that have come and gone in my personal library over the years I’ve never considered parting with it, based on one memorable reading of it in what seems an age ago. With that in mind, I was interested to see how an older, wiser and infinitely more cynical version of my young self would find it.

For reasons that will become obvious, I find it difficult to write about Stewart. Well, I find it difficult to write about anything, God knows. But Stewart presents special problems. Do I speak of him as I later came to know him, or as he appeared to me before I learned the truth, before I stripped away the mask of normalcy he hid behind? For so long he seemed nothing but a footnote to my life, a passing reference in what I had imagined would be the story of my swift rise to literary stardom. Today he not only haunts every line of this statement, but is, in a sense, its animating spirit, its reason for being.

About the Author tells the story of lothario bookstore clerk Cal Cunningham. Cal prides himself on his aspirations of bestsellerdom but lacks the literary inspiration to achieve it, so when the opportunity to pass his dead roommate’s manuscript off as his own work of genius, he does so with little hesitation and to wild success. In true ‘…but the  past ain’t through with you‘ fashion however, the decision haunts the rest of this story. Wielding themes of identity, envy and ambition, in hindsight it shares much in common with Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley, but differs in that this thriller expands to more psychological Hitchcockian proportions. As our hero spirals further out of control in his quest to keep his misdeeds secret, he finds himself living a proxy of the life of the man whose work he stole, and refreshingly things escalate in a way that never seems forced or trite. Most of the supporting characters are lightly sketched to varying degrees of effect – a rambunctious literary agent comes across just right in his one-note shallowness, but he’s the only character that truly works in spite of not being fleshed out. That said, there’s enough conflict in our main character’’s actions and thoughts – the story is told from Cunningham’s viewpoint – for Colapinto to sink his teeth into, and it makes for a compelling read overall.

The envious and ambitious traits of the lead character certainly struck a chord with me in my latter-day blogger guise. One thing that surprised me as I reviewed this retrospectively was how I interpreted the protagonist’s actions when I was younger – Cal Cunningham is no longer some enfant terrible anti-hero as I once saw him, in fact now he just strikes me as a pretentious jerk. Whether this is a concious choice by Colapinto or not, I’m not sure, but the fact that the book works despite my dislike of its hero is testament to the author’s plotting and ability to ratchet the tension from zero to panic in a stroke. Hollywood agreed to an extent – a film adaptation has been languishing in development limbo since publication despite a script from the reliable Patrick Marber.

About the Author remains to this date John Colapinto’s sole fictional novel, and that in itself is a shame. A substantial cut above your beach holiday thriller fare, it’s well worth seeking out and heartily recommended. However, heroically reading a book in a one day and then blogging about it I’ll leave to the professionals.

Colin Bell writes over at It’s Bloggerin Time – go pay him a visit.

“Them that fought wide open didn’t last no tim, ‘specially among the heavies. The padded cell and paper-doll cut-outs for most of ’em. It don’t stand to reason a human skull can stand up under the beatin’s it gets like that.”

Oh dear. It appears that I have aged overnight. Yes, my thirty-second year on this blue ball has begun.

Already I can feel my body becoming more decrepid, the toll of old age setting in, my memory growing foggy. Actually, scratch all that. I feel fine! What’s more I woke up this morning to some lovely bookish birthday presents from Stephanie, which I am sure I will be reviewing on here shortly.

In an unusual manner, today’s book echoes my oscillating mood this morning. Robert E. Howard evidenced a fascination with physical prowess in his Conan novels, among others, but in The Iron Man he focuses on the damage that can be done to a body.  Ultimately, however, the book’s theme is a far more daunting contest between the limits of human endurance and the salvation offered by true love.

Howard’s narrator first witnesses Mike Brennon fighting against a carnival act in Nevada. The young man shows a great capacity for taking pain and throwing wide, powerful blows, but no real technical aptitude for boxing. As it turns out, Howard’s first person narrator is Steve Amber, a fight manager, who is at first rebuffed by Brennon. Then the intense boxer seeks him out months later with a renewed passion for professional contests. Never one to pass up a good opportunity, Amber puts him into training. He is dismayed to note that Brennon seems incapable of developing any real pugilist skills. His stamina and natural strength are his only real advantages, certainly not enough to justify sending him into a bout against a first-rate fighter. Nevertheless Brennon insists. His desire to win real prize money concerns Amber, as his rookie contender seems willing to put himself through any amount of punishment in order to make some cash.

When Brennon gets into the ring with Monk Barota though, Amber and his partner Ganlon realize that they have no ordinary fighter, but a real Iron Man. He cannot even feel his opponents punches, his body numb to the pain that Barota is undoubtedly causing.

“Bat Nelson true to life!” he whispered, his voice vibrating with excitement. “The crowd thinks, and Barota thinks, them left hooks is hurtin’ Mike – but he ain’t even feelin’ ’em.”

From absolute no-hoper Brennon is catapulted onto the national boxing scene as a star, a modern day Iron Man, capable of outlasting any opponent. True he does lose some fights on points, but he is seemingly incapable of being knocked out. Amber grows increasingly concerned though, as to why his fighter’s seeming greed for money never abates. His behaviour seems miserly and obsessive, a dangerous combination as over three years Brennon begins to slow down even more. He is compelled to continue fighting, despite Amber’s warnings that he risks not only serious injury, but a complete mental breakdown.

Howard captures the desperation and excitement of the early twentieth century boxing scene, but also the gradual fade from showmanship into sadistic bouts of bloodletting. Brennon rarely emerges from a fight not looking like tenderized raw meat. His obsession with fighting risks his health and all in the name of attracting bigger crowds, bigger pay cheques. Howard appears to be describing the actions of a near-mindless masochist – until that is, the story’s twist is revealed.

The writing itself seems anachronistic, but then The Iron Man makes no pretense at realism. This is the kind of story where a character in a moment of passion will exclaim ‘Applesauce!’, as opposed to a more vulgar expression. It also has a welcome beating heart full of sentimentality hidden beneath the bruised and torn flesh of the fighters.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. It captures the thrill of boxing, but not without a critical aside on the physical toll levied by the sport. A very enjoyable yarn.

Join me at The Momus Report

Vote For Me!

Share this blog

Bookmark and Share