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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Funny, Tough Story With Bite And Heart--Just Like Its Title
Matt Burgess, in the perfectly titled "Dogfight, A Love Story," has crafted a delicately balanced novel with both bite and heart. Set in the post 9/11 era borough of Queens, "Dogfight" introduces us to a low-level criminal type named Alfredo Batista. Alfredo has a big day ahead--his brother Tariq is getting out of prison! Whether that is good or not remains to be seen...
Published on September 3, 2010 by K. Harris

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Seeing me and Julio down by the school yard
Matt Burgess' debut novel, "Dogfight, A Love Story," is set in Queens NY. I picked it up because I grew up in Queens and my family was part of the great #7 train migration that took us westward from apartments in Woodside, Jackson Heights, Corona, East Elmhurst and finally to Flushing. I grew up going to places that come up in the book and Burgess gets Queens, dead solid...
Published on September 1, 2010 by Leonard Fleisig


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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Funny, Tough Story With Bite And Heart--Just Like Its Title, September 3, 2010
This review is from: Dogfight, A Love Story (Hardcover)
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Matt Burgess, in the perfectly titled "Dogfight, A Love Story," has crafted a delicately balanced novel with both bite and heart. Set in the post 9/11 era borough of Queens, "Dogfight" introduces us to a low-level criminal type named Alfredo Batista. Alfredo has a big day ahead--his brother Tariq is getting out of prison! Whether that is good or not remains to be seen. You see, some think that Alfredo turned his brother in. While that may be up for debate, the one thing that is undeniable is that Alfredo is now living with Tariq's ex-girlfriend and is fathering a child with her. What's a good brother to do for this homecoming event? Why, of course, he needs to steal some drugs as a present and set up a dogfight for a party! It only makes sense!

But lest you think that "Dogfight" is a brutal story about the mean streets--let me just interject that the novel is genuinely funny as well. Burgess's principle success is his characterization of Alfredo. A hero, a villain, a lover, a fighter--Alfredo is mostly a mixed up kid with good intentions that is surviving anyway he knows how. Unfortunately, the thing he seems to do best is to get over his head. With real dreams and even bigger worries, Alfredo's trying to step up and be a responsible man. It's a dynamic and fully realized character--and I absolutely loved Alfredo as much as I wanted to throttle him.

Interactions between Alfredo and Tariq are suitably complex. Alfredo's relationships are all well formed, in fact. His parents, his best friend, his surrogate father figure, his girl and even his unborn baby all figure prominently in Alfredo's decisions. There is a real underlying sweetness, despite the unpleasantness, that keeps you really rooting for things to work out! But as the day rushes toward an inevitably violent climax at the dogfight, Burgess builds suspense like a pro. Gritty, yet tender--brutal, yet heartfelt--tragic, yet laugh-out-loud funny--"Dogfight, A Love Story" walks a tightrope in its tone and does so perfectly. A definite recommendation because I actually cared to see what happened with these characters!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Seeing me and Julio down by the school yard, September 1, 2010
By 
Leonard Fleisig "Len" (Virginia Beach, Virginia) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Dogfight, A Love Story (Hardcover)
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Matt Burgess' debut novel, "Dogfight, A Love Story," is set in Queens NY. I picked it up because I grew up in Queens and my family was part of the great #7 train migration that took us westward from apartments in Woodside, Jackson Heights, Corona, East Elmhurst and finally to Flushing. I grew up going to places that come up in the book and Burgess gets Queens, dead solid perfect. The story would hit Corona, and there it was, the Lemon Ice King of Corona where it seemed the entire Borough would congregate on hot summer nights. The story moved to a bowling alley and there it was, the Whitestone Lanes: where I snuck my first cigarette and bummed my first sips of Colt 45 Malt Liquor and where the bowling shoes apparently still reek and where a lot of `business' still gets done in the parking lot. The description of the denizens of a local park (an asphalt playground really) seemed lifted as much from my own memory as from the author's imagination.

So even before getting to the story itself I was already grabbed by the atmospherics. Now, the question is, if you aren't from Queens and those atmospherics alone won't grab you - will you still like this book? I think the answer is a definite yes, a very definite yes. Burgess has created a number of characters that are funny and compelling. The three main characters are Alfredo Batista, his older brother Tariq, and Alfredo's very pregnant girl friend (and Tariq's former girlfriend) Isabel. These aren't perfect people, far from it. Alfredo is a small time pill and weed pusher, Isabel's been around the block a few times, and the story opens just as Tariq is released from a two-year stretch in an upstate prison. But they are real, or they certainly seemed real to me. As the story progresses, and as the flaws and warts on each of the character's become more apparent I found myself asking myself, why do I care about these people? Well I think the answer to that is the fact that Burgess has created a story-line that makes you want to keep reading.

For a first novel, this is a very good result.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just terrific, August 31, 2010
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sb-lynn (Santa Barbara, California United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Dogfight, A Love Story (Hardcover)
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Brief summary and review, no spoilers.

The year is 2002, and Alfredo Batista is 19 years old. He and his pregnant girlfriend Isabel live with his parents at their small home in Queens. Alfredo is a high school dropout who makes little money dealing drugs along with his best friend Winston. Alfredo's most pressing concern however is the return of his brother Jose (now going by the name Tariq.) Tariq is being paroled from prison for a burglary committed 2 years earlier. And Tariq might not be very happy because Isabel used to be his girlfriend, and word on the street is that Alfredo ratted Tariq out.

The story is told from various character's point of view. We hear from Alfredo who is understandably stressed about his brother's return and is also apprehensive about his own bleak economic future. We hear from Isabel, and learn about her own upbringing and her concern for her unborn child. And we hear from Tariq, newly converted to Islam, who is struggling with his own demons and inner conflicts.

Alfredo, in an effort to win over Tariq plans to give him some Ecstasy when he gets home. He also plans to stage a dogfight with the same purpose. The problem is that when getting the drugs off of a school drug dealer, Alfredo and Winston end up getting the unwanted and unintended attention and ire of the Russian mob. And their plans for the dogfight have a hitch too - they don't have a dog.

There's a cast of colorful characters, including a 300 pound drug dealer with Cushing's Disease named Baka, an old feisty Jewish shop owner named Max, and a Chevy Impala full of not-so-undercover policemen. To name a few.

This is an astonishingly good book. As you read on and on, there is a palpable sense of tension and dread. It's difficult to put this book down, especially towards the end. You get an absolutely fantastic sense of place and time. This author manages to bring these characters to life and I got a real sense of what life was like for those on the gritty streets of Queens in 2002.

There are many things to recommend about this novel. I thought the writing was just fantastic, and the dialogue was just spot on. This author manages to combine a frightening, bleak and violent story with literally laugh out loud moments. Brilliant, really, and I found myself constantly reading aloud passages to my husband because I thought they were so clever and astute. Such a incredible mix of humor and horror pulled off so adroitly.

Highly recommended. This novel is going on my best of of 2010 list for sure. It's that good.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great, September 2, 2010
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This review is from: Dogfight, A Love Story (Hardcover)
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Matt Burgess nails practically every verbal exchange in this book. That's a big thing, really. There are so many books in urban settings that fail miserably when it comes to dialog, but the characters in "Dogfight" talk like my brothers, their friends, my neighbors. They talk the way I hear people talk on the bus or the train, and that is a huge push for the story.

Burgess also manages to weave characters into scenes almost completely effortlessly, without being too obvious. You see an encounter in one scene, then a few chapters later, you realize that person was someone who had been mentioned but not seen. Of course, it isn't always a revelation - the second mention of a character by the country of origin turns out to be no coincidence.

Overall, I thought this was a great story, and while I would have liked to see it a little more beefed up, I read it in one sitting and enjoyed it greatly. I think pretty much every scene with Isabel in it, and every word having to do with her was amazingly written.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Debut Novel, September 27, 2010
This review is from: Dogfight, A Love Story (Hardcover)
Matt Burgess creates characters and writes dialogue better than any author I've read in years. By the end of the first chapter you have a great mental picture of each main character and have probably laughed out loud more than once at the witty dialogue. Add to that a great plot, and you have a page-turner that is impeccably written - very few authors have accomplished that recently, let alone debut authors.

-------------------

As a follow-up, I have to say the one-star review that begins "a book glorifying dogfighting is one I will not read" is about the dumbest and most Yogi Berra-esque statements I've seen. The book doesn't glorify dogfighting at all, but you would have to actually read the book to figure that out. The reviewer is essentially saying "Chicken tastes terrible, so I've never tried it"
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Strong characters and a funny, powerful story, January 31, 2011
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This review is from: Dogfight, A Love Story (Hardcover)
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Dogfight, A Love Story was a love story for me in this sense: I loved reading it. The novel is fresh, very funny, occasionally morbid, and always energetic. It is the product of a very talented writer. In its setting and characters it reminded me of Clockers (a book I greatly enjoyed) minus the cops and with added humor, but the writing in Dogfight is of a higher quality. Burgess' writing style is exactly right for a literary crime novel: sharp and zestful and evocative. The dramatic climax (coming just before an ending that is essentially an epilogue) is frenetic, explosive, intense: powerful stuff that made me utter an involuntary "wow."

Dogfight follows Alfredo Batista during the days before and after his brother Tariq (f/k/a Jose Jr.) is released from prison. While Tariq has been serving his sentence, Alfredo, a small time drug dealer in Queens, has taken up with Tariq's girlfriend, who is now pregnant with Alfredo's child. Worried about his brother's tendency toward violence, Alfredo wants to give him a homecoming present. To that end, he engineers a robbery from a Russian street dealer -- a poor decision that will soon lead to unexpected trouble. He also tries to arrange a dogfight, despite never having seen one (dogfights not being the competition of choice in Queens).

Matt Burgess does a masterful job of merging the plot-driven demands of genre fiction with the character-driven sensibility of literary fiction. Some readers won't like Alfredo or some of the other characters because they commit crimes. But even readers who generally want to read about morally pure characters might find Alfredo to be worth their time. He's imperfect (aren't we all?) but he isn't thuggish. Despite doing something during the novel's course for which he will probably never forgive himself, he has a conscience and he experiences some personal growth, if not full redemption, by the novel's end. In any event, all of the central characters in Dogfight have distinctive, fully realized personalities. It is easy to understand their actions even if the reader might disapprove of them. At least to me, they were all interesting, filled with credible emotions, self-doubt, yearnings, regrets -- all the stuff that makes us human.

Finally, lest you be alarmed by the content of single star reviews from reviewers who didn't bother to read the book before complaining about it, be assured that no dogs were harmed in the writing of this novel. This is a work of fiction, after all. Speaking as someone whose best friend is a golden retriever, I can safely predict that most dog lovers will recognize that this novel does not glorify or glamorize dog fighting. Quite the opposite, in fact. Animal lovers should not avoid this excellent book because of its unfortunate title. In this dog lover's opinion, it is a five star novel.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Culture of Illusion vs Harsh Realities of Queens NY, August 27, 2010
This review is from: Dogfight, A Love Story (Hardcover)
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The Queen's immigrants number nearly half of the 2.3 millions residents that compose the largest area of the five boroughs of New York City. Matt Burgess has constructed a work of literature that is, in a way, a Queen's document of consciousness, a search for a form that reflects what it mean's to be alive in one's own time & place - a realism - that is ever evolving within that moving frame. This novel also reflects one of the most powerful story's across America, one of financial ruin, moral disintergration, desparation, and a purposeful slow burn intiated by a heartless, tyrannical corporitized power of both legal/illegal tenacles. The characters that cross the pages of Dogfight search for a truth in their lives filled with chaos, where one finds oneself lost. The individual is terrified to confront this reality face to face, day to day, and so attempts to conceal it, by drawing a curtain of fantasy over it.
This is what I truly was struck by in the author's characterizations. The way he moved their frames through the celluloid shadows on the dark wall of Plato's cave. The ways in which each escaped the chaos of real life through fantasy. He writes it so the reader can see them as they see themselves: as stars in their own movies, becoming performers in AND audiences for a grand ongoing show.
The principal character is Alfredo Batista, a small time drug dealer, 19 & single. His older brother, Tariq, is in prison for robbery & getting out soon. Some think Alfredo ratted him out & stole his girlfriend. She is now pregnant with his child. Alfredo is throwing a getting-out-party that will be in the form of a dogfight.
The writing is superb/Alfredo is afraid of dogs, especially this one. His eyes look like a man's eyes, with plenty of white around the pupils. That's what's so scary. These eyes bulge in their sockets, as if they want out, as if they want to return to the human face from which they came/She knows the ex in ex-con is only temporary, Indian-given; she knows the prisons have cells on the inside and revoving doors on the outside.
Finally, the story is about the power of love. A power stronger than death. A power the elites for millennias have tried & failed to crush. Defying the lust for power, love then reminds society of what is real and what is illusion.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED !!!!!!!

P.S. For more on the culture of illusion - google/watch:
How Corporations Destroyed Democracy - Chris Hedges
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fast paced gritty story with characters that are both heroic and clueless. A great read!, August 27, 2010
This review is from: Dogfight, A Love Story (Hardcover)
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I was interested in this recent novel because it is set in the borough of Queens, New York, my home town. I'm acquainted with the neighborhoods and, even though I never have lived in Jackson Heights, where this book is set, I can relate to the landmarks, the wide variety of ethnic groups who call this town their home, and the proximity of living in a borough that is just a hop, skip and a jump away from the glittering Manhattan Island.

The main character, Alfredo, is a 19-year old Puerto Rican low-level drug dealer. His girlfriend is pregnant, his brother is being released from jail, and he is looking for a new way to make money. He dreams up the idea of having a dogfight in the basement of the local candy store. He's never seen a dogfight, of course. And neither has anyone else in his group of friends. And so there are a lot of comic elements to this story. And yet, among the humor, the characters are very real and are both clueless and heroic at the same time. In other words, there's a humanity about them all that made me care. I cared so much, in fact, that I read this 290 page well-crafted novel in just one day.

The story is easy to follow and rich with nuance and reality. I'll never forget the scene where the pregnant girlfriend goes to Elmhurst hospital for a pre-natal exam, or the homecoming dinner the hard-working Puerto Rican mother prepares for her son who has just been released from jail and he refuses to eat it because it contains pork and he has converted to Islam. Then there are the cops assigned to wear plainclothes and cruise the neighborhood trying to make arrests so they can get overtime, and all the high-school dropouts and petty thieves. Each of the characters is just trying his or her best to get some joy out of their lives in spite of their low aspirations and the day-to-day drudgery of their lives.

The plot moves fast; there's not a wasted word. The dialog sounds real and gritty. I just couldn't put the book down.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Life is a dogfight, August 29, 2010
This review is from: Dogfight, A Love Story (Hardcover)
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Very impressive first time contemporary novel by Matt Burgess. It is set in Queens, NY where most people will do whatever it takes to survive. It is also a story of two brothers Jose (Tariq) and Alfredo. Raised in poverty by their immigrant Puerto Rican parents, these boys are destined for lifetime of scheaming, drug dealing and get-quick-rich deals. Not destined to attend college and thrown into a neigborhood where drugs, booze and sex are the only escape from daily misery both brothers are aware of their opportunities on the streets.

Tariq is about to get out of prison after spending time for burglary. He has changed his religion in futile attempt to rehabilitate himself. His rage is coming from so many directions; being incarserated for so many years, the fact that his ex-girlfriend Isabel is now pregnant with his brother Alfredo's child, his father's paralysis after he was shot in a convenience store's burglary attempt where he was a clerk, his mother's constant fatigue. Tariq's destiny leads to nowhere: he has no skills, no money, no future. He is alianated from his family.

Can these two brothers make peace between each other? Can this family regain its dignity? The book reads like an episode of "Wire" TV series. Crooked cops, small time drug handlers, Russian mafia guys. Setup in modern day Queens and set in one weekend period this novel is a compelling read. Both entertaining and hearbreaking.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not Your Usual Love Story, August 30, 2010
By 
K. L. Cotugno (San Francisco, CA USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Dogfight, A Love Story (Hardcover)
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This is advertised as the first real Queens Novel, set in that Borough with its large immigrant population coexisting side by side, imparting an international alphabet soup quality to the story and the characters. Nobody writes so well about New York as her inhabitants, and Burgess is a welcome addition to this group. Yes, Jonathan Letham writes knowingly and lovingly about Brooklyn, but this novel seems to owe as much to Richard Price's Lush Life as to anything else, or any of Pete Hammill's evocative paeans to the entire City. So that is what I mean when I say this is not the usual love story even if it does have love between a man and a woman, brothers and brothers, mothers and fathers and children -- they are all somewhat in love with their City, with their Borough, and are doing what they can to survive and possibly change their relationships with her rather than having to leave. Decisions are not made easily and often are unwise. But by giving more characters inner lives and depths, Burgess expresses his deep held affection for his venue, warts and all.
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Dogfight, A Love Story
Dogfight, A Love Story by Matt Burgess (Hardcover - September 21, 2010)
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