The Boxer's Heart
by Kate Sekules/Villard, $23.95
Looking for a Fight
by Lynn Snowden Picket/The Dial Press, $23.95
In 1822 English essayist and fight aficionado William Hazlitt made the claim that it was not impossible for a boxer to be a gentleman. Indeed, he argued, a fellow may go so far as to "blow out your brains" and still be a gentleman, unless "he uses foul language at the same time." As broad-minded as Hazlitt was, he would never have swallowed the notion that a boxer might be a lady.
You've come a long way, boxing. Sekules and Snowden Picket are accomplished New York journalists who took up the sport in the late 1990s. Their boxing memoirs are vivid, frank and well-written, but strikingly similar. Which book you prefer will depend on whether you tend to root for flammable brawlers like Snowden Picket or cerebral tacticians like Sekules.
Both women trained at Brooklyn's legendary Gleason's gym. Snowden Picket is drawn there because, after during a humiliating divorce, she is "tired of taking crap from guys" and craves "the pleasure of pure violence." When an obnoxious yuppie strolls in and hollers advice to her as she spars, she reaches over the ropes and clocks him in the face while his 10-year-old son watches in horror. Mean, yes, but she claims to be teaching a valuable lesson: "Never tell a woman what to do if she happens to be wearing boxing gloves."
Sekules also enters Gleason's with a chip on her shoulder, vowing to "show what women can do," but finds that no one cares. She has two professional bouts, including one against a sometime model known as the Raging Belle. Believing Belle to be a poseur, Sekules smashes her pretty nose with glee.
Sekules muses that "the ring is the one and only place where you're allowed—no, encouraged—to toss out all your sophisticated rules of moral and social behavior." The fact that she doesn't wish to means she's not cut out to be a boxer. That's O.K., because the pen is mightier than the glove, and Sekules and Snowden Picket both wield the pen well.
by F.X. Toole/The Ecco Press, $23
"I stop blood," writes Toole by way of introduction. Fight fans may know him as Jerry Boyd, a cutman who has worked the corners of such noted boxers as Jesus Salud and Antoine Byrd. He began writing short stories based on his experiences, and it turns out that Toole spins yarns as expertly as Boyd stanches wounds. Each of the book's six stories features a character who is obviously Toole's alter ego: a witty, street-smart Irish-American corner man. For an honest fighter with genuine heart, the corner man is willing to kill and die. Though Toole is a romantic—his characters are either incorruptibly good or hopelessly evil—his work provides a fascinating view of boxing's harshest realities, from fake drug tests to crooked judges and Machiavellian promoters.
The other theme that unites Toole's stories is race. "Ninety-five percent of my friends and associates are of a different color than I," he writes, and the boundaries created by our preoccupation with skin color fascinate and enrage him. At times he gets too preachy on the subject, but Toole is delightful when he sticks to the things he does best: telling tales and stopping blood.