Publication Date: September 8, 2015
Fat City is a vivid novel of defiance and struggle, of the potent promise of the good life and the desperation and drink that waylay those whom it eludes. It is the story of two men—the ex-boxer Billy Tully and the novice Ernie Munger—and their brief sparring session that sets into motion their hidden fates, initiating young Munger into the “company of men” and luring Tully back into training.
The novel that was adapted into John Huston’s acclaimed film, Fat City tells of the men’s anxieties and hopes, their loves and losses, and the stubborn determination of their manager, Ruben Luna, who knows that even the most promising kid is likely to fall prey to some weakness.
“The stories of Ernie Munger, a young fighter with frail but nevertheless burning hopes, and Billy Tully, an older pug with bad luck in and out of the ring, parallel one another through the book. Though the two men hardly meet, the tale blends the perspective on them until they seem to chart a single life of missteps and baffled love, Ernie its youth and Tully its future. I wanted to write a book like that.”
—Denis Johnson, from the introduction
In his pity and art Gardner moves beyond race, beyond guilt and punishment, as Twain and Melville did, into a tragic forgiveness. I have seldom read a novel as beautiful and individual as this one.
Set in the bars, buses, gyms, and transit hotels of gritty, fifties’ era Stockton, California, Fat City is a perfect document, mapped and studied, the dialogue memorized, by generations of writers. The well-known film (written by Gardner for John Huston), only approaches the spare timelessness of Gardner’s prose.
—Jayne Anne Phillips
Gardner has got it exactly right… but he has done more than just get it down, he has made it a metaphor for the joyless in heart.
Really a superior performance… Gardner takes us into the bitter fancies of two professional prizefighters… the first is a has-been, the second is learning to lose. A third character, their manager, links the pair in defeat and frustration… Gardner strips them of everything except the most important thing: their singularity… of such a seemingly small gift is dignity born and success measured.
Gardner has laid claim to a locale that others have explored, but seldom with such accuracy and control… in a tone that is both detached and lyrical. The triumph of the book is its action. Running, fighting, loving, weeding, harvesting, these men stay in motion in order not to be doomed. So powerfully does Gardner record their actions that we recall their lives, not their defeats.
—The New York Times Book Review
Gardner’s book should be taken slowly. The chapters are constructed with great care, worked, polished and fitted like precision parts in a beautiful engine. There is a comic chapter on the physical attributes of boxers which could easily be overlooked, three pages as delicate and funny as the calmer Twain. Chapter Four, a short section ending a magnificent description of a boxer doing roadwork, withstands the closest scrutiny.
—Frank Conroy, Life
The stories of Ernie Munger, a young fighter with frail but nevertheless burning hopes, and Billy Tully, an older pug with bad luck in and out of the ring, parallel one another through the book. Though the two men hardly meet, the tale blends the perspective on them until they seem to chart a single life of missteps and baffled love, Ernie its youth and Tully its future. I wanted to write a book like that.
—Denis Johnson, Salon
Leonard Gardner wrote Fat City as a moody elegy to the wayward dreamers who fight in tank-town arenas, then retreat to flophouses and shotgun weddings, day labor and rotgut drinking binges.
—John Schulian, Los Angeles Times