Jack Boucher, a former bare-knuckle fighter, has nothing more to give. In a single twisted night, he is derailed. Hijacked by a sleazy gambler out to settle a score, Jack loses the money that will clear his debt with the queen of Delta vice, Big Momma Sweet. As Jack’s foster mother slowly dies, her mind eroded by dementia, so Jack finds his mind is failing too. Years of bare-knuckle fighting have taken their toll and recurrent concussion leaves him relying on painkillers and a notebook of names, separating friend from foe, to keep himself alive. Yet a saviour comes in the form of Annette, a tattooed carnival worker and free spirit, who guides him towards some sort of salvation. But the road to redemption is filled with danger and Jack is forced to step into the fighting pit one last time, with the stakes no less than life or death.
This is not the type of book that I would necessarily read but sometimes it’s good to get out of your comfort zone and try something new.
Jack Boucher is as the blurb describes a hardened fighter, past his prime and heading home with money in his pocket to settle his debts. Yet the money is not enough to save the house he grew up in, the house his foster Mother entrusted him with, a fact Jack regrets. An accident and the loss of the money confounds Jacks problems and this is where the story really starts.
Jack is a complex character, abandoned at birth and shunted from children’s homes to foster homes. It is only when Maryanne fosters him that Jack finally feels secure. Cage fighting turns out to be the only thing he is good at but it takes it’s toll. Farris excels at showing the two sides of Jack, the hard nosed fighter and the caring but damaged side. His love for Maryanne is deep, his sense of responsibility towards her strong, but I could feel his angst, his feelings that he had let her down and that he so wished his life had been very different. I could visualise the anguish on his face, a face that I could imagine looking older than his true age. I also felt his physical pain and winced a couple of times as Farris described his intense and extremely painful headaches.
The scenes as Jack sat at the nursing home with an unresponsive Maryanne were tender and emotive and I really felt the Jacks sorrow.
The other major character in the novel is Annette. Annette is young, tattooed and hardened by the life she has led. An ex pole dancer Annette exhibits her tattoos in her friend Baron’s travelling show. It’s a show run by ex prisoners, those on the wrong side of society. She’s one tough woman and I loved her grit and determination. When she meets Jack I knew there was something deeper between them and I wasn’t quite sure what it was. I did feel there was an instant connection on Annette’s side and I loved the journey of discovery Farris took us on as Annette pieced together her past.
There is one aspect of the novel that really stood out for me and that was the brilliant scene setting and atmosphere. I could feel the hot, sticky humidity of the Delta, and could clearly imagine Big Momma Sweet’s compound.
Farris seamlessly wove the past and the present together, unraveling the back stories of Jack and Annette. The latter part of the novel was fast paced, and exciting with a very dramatic last few pages that had me totally gripped, wishing that the outcome for both Jack and Annette would be a good one.
This novel could best be described as hard on the outside with a soft and tender inside. It is a novel of grief, loss and regret with a small glimmer of hope just within sight. It is a novel that surprised me and I am so pleased that I had the opportunity to read. The Fighter.
Thank you to No Exit Press for a proof to read and review and to Anne Cater for inviting mybookishblogspot to take part in the blogtour.
About the author
MICHAEL FARRIS SMITH is a native Mississippian who has spent time living abroad in France and Switzerland. He is the recipient of the 2014 Mississippi Author Award and has been awarded the Mississippi Arts Commission Literary Arts Fellowship, the Transatlantic Review Award for Fiction, and the Alabama Arts Council Fellowship Award for Literature. His short fiction has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and his essays have appeared with The New York Times, Catfish Alley, Deep South
Magazine, and more. He lives in Columbus, Mississippi, with his wife and two daughters.