These are hard times for the first novelist—hard, that is, unless he happens to have a socko box-office byline. Most young writers have to resort to little magazines and small presses if they want their apprentice work to see the light of day. If, on the other hand, the first novelist is named Sylvester Stallone...well, that is another kettle offish altogether.
Sylvester Stallone has "written" a "novel." Quotation marks are necessary because the book Paradise Alley (Putnam, $8.95) contains almost no evidence that Stallone knows how to write or how to organize a novel. Paradise Alley is unalloyed trash, so bad in every way that it would get an F in a creative writing class. But such considerations must not count for much in the offices of Stallone's publisher, which has rushed the book into print on a wave of publicity.
The reason, of course, is that Stallone is a celebrity. Stallone is Rocky, the celluloid pugilist who put a lump in the nation's throat and elevated muscular uplift to a profitable, if not necessarily fine, art. Everybody loves Rocky, everybody loves Stallone—and if you put two and two together it adds up to a potential best-selling book, and minimal literary standards be damned.
For the record, Paradise Alley has to do with three Italian brothers striving to escape New York's Hell's Kitchen in the summer of 1946. One brother is very strong and becomes a wrestler. The book grinds to its climax, which is, of course, the brother's big match. When the big match is over, the book is over. None too soon.
Stallone doesn't seem to know basic grammar, and he uses "you" and "ya" in the same sentence, interchangeably. He writes in a style that seeks to be spare and dramatic but merely sounds like Dick and Jane gone punch-drunk. Try this passage:
"Victor watched Cosmo leave, then he looked at Lenny.
"He did not feel good about the way Cosmo had talked to Lenny.
"He knew the ice in the truck was melting.
"He knew his dog was getting lonely.
"But he could not leave until he knew Lenny was not mad."