Saturday, April 13, 2013

Review: "Donnybrook" by Frank Bill

While many books will come out in 2013, I can bet you real money that none of them will be as fun to read (or have as good of a cover) than Donnybrook, the first novel by Indiana’s own Frank Bill. It is filled with enough gore, violence and attitude the book should be read with some Thom Jones’ inspired boxing headgear. Each page packs quite a wallop, with characters dying within paragraphs of each other, leaving little chance for the reader to catch their breath. This is the book that fulfills the promise that Bill brought forth in his debut collection Crimes in Southern Indiana. Much like the trajectory of fellow mid-western noir author Donald Ray Pollack and his first two books, the novel builds off the short story collection in crazy, often times disturbing leaps. For Pollack, he introduced a unique setting with a keen sense of place in his first book Knockemstiff, and from that he wrote The Devil All the Time, which upped the oddball-intensity and graphic violence to tell a story you won’t soon forget. The same thing can said of Donnybrook, with this tale of a backwoods bare knuckle-boxing tournament being the violent older brother of Crimes in Southern Indiana. And everyone who reads it should be thankful for that. There are really three central storylines whose paths all lead to the dark, carnival-esque Donnybrook tournament. Jarhead, a man who is desperate to provide for his family, robs a gun store to get the funds he needs in order to enter the tournament. He is violent person, but he becomes the moral center and redemptive soul of this intensely bleak world. The same cannot be said about Chainsaw Angus, and his slutty sister Liz, who, after a failed attempt at making meth leaves two brothers dead, decide to make one last attempt at being successful drug dealers by selling some stolen pharmaceuticals at the big event. We then learn the deep-seeded hatred Liz has for Angus, who has effectively ruined her life, as well as the fame Angus has accumulated by participating in Donnybrook, becoming probably the best fighter to have ever entered the tournament. The real wild card of the novel is the character of Fu, an Anton Chigurh-like character who works for a local owner of a Chinese restaurant who must collected a debt that Angus has inherited using any means possible, which includes an encyclopedic knowledge of acupuncture that provide some of the most disturbing, and squirm-inducing scenes in the book. Once everything and everyone is at Donnybrook, everyone’s darkest desires compete with one another, and the results are bloody. But despite all the violence in the book, which may be the most I have seen in a long time. There is a real sense of affection Bill imbues in each of these desperate people. Hope always seems tangible to these people, even if it takes a balled-up fist to obtain it. There is nothing else out there like this book. It is a truly great reading experience.
Rating: 5/5

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