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Fat City (California Fiction) Paperback – October 6, 1996

4.8 out of 5 stars 51 customer reviews

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Paperback, October 6, 1996
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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

LJ's reviewer found this "sordid saga of cheap hotels, cheap women, cheap dreams, and little or no fulfillment" to be "expertly written" (LJ 9/1/69). The plot finds palooka Billy Tully teaming up with a young would-be fighter who is destined to follow in Tully's footsteps.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.


"Although the fight scenes are blood-curdlingly real enough, the tale is not about boxing: it is about desperate men doing the only thing they can do fighting at once to stay alive and to die. . . . Gardner's careful characterizing eye gleans apt images to build the stark reality of human beings on the aimless loose." -- Keith S. Felton, Los Angeles Times

"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." -- New York Times Book Review

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Product Details

  • Series: California Fiction
  • Paperback: 183 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (October 6, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520206576
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520206571
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.6 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #615,490 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By William Hare on February 1, 2002
Format: Paperback
Billy Tully and Ernie Munger are two young men living in the Northern California delta town of Stockton. Their world is the violent one of boxing, but their struggles for survival are more universal than just any conventional story about men battling professionally in the squared circle. You do not have to be a fight fan to appreciate this arresting work.
Leonard Gardner has followed the rule of thumb laid down years ago of "Write what you know." Gardner grew up in Stockton and knows the lower middle class world he describes with graphic brilliance. He was an amateur boxer, giving him a knowledge of how men struggle to survive in that competitive and highly dangerous world.
Gardner's story craft is straight out of Albert Camus, in many ways reminiscent of his epic novella, "The Stranger." His descriptions of dingy bars and dreary hotel rooms ring with clarity, transferring readers to a world of existential survival where some cling to hope while others have long since given up.
Tully was on the verge of being a contender but lost a major fight, hit the bottle, and quit boxing. He got a job as a short order cook. After going to the local high school gym to work out he meets Ernie Munger. At 18 Ernie is eleven years Tully's senior. He becomes so impressed by Munger's moves that he recommends that he visit Lido Gym and look up his former manager. When Munger begins boxing amateur Tully's interest increases and he is motivated to launch a comeback.
Tully and Munger seek extra money by working as field pickers under a broiling sun.
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Format: Paperback
It really is. I have read, I'd guess, 250-300 novels by contemporary writers since I read a glowing review of FAT CITY in a San Francisco newspaper years ago, sometime in the early 1970s, and bought the novel, mainly because I was brought up in San Jose, California, and wondered what could a writer find in the humble tank town of Stockton to write about. When I finished reading it I just looked out the window, so moved was I by the characters in the novel, and by Gardner's storytelling prowess. And to this day -- going on 28 years later -- I swear that I have not read a contemporary novel that has affected me as profoundly as FAT CITY did, and still does whenever I reread it, which is every year or two. Gardner's craft is wonderful to read -- the cadences of his sentences are gorgeous; you find yourself wanting to read it out loud to yourself, just to relish the drum beat of the syllables. (The only other writer I can think of who constructed sentences that way in English is Joseph Conrad.) Gardner's understanding of his characters, and of human nature, makes you shake your head and smile, even as his characters are blindly reeling toward sad destinies. This is American literature of the finest kind -- and though Gardner has not published a novel since FAT CITY in 1969, I know that a whole lot of people hope that he will again. He has the gift and this novel is proof.
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Format: Paperback
Leonard Gardner's short novel, "Fat City", set in Stockton, California in the mid-1950's, appeared in 1969. Gardner wrote the screenplay for the movie, directed by John Huston, in 1972. The book remains in print in a series of novels based in California called "California fiction". I came upon this book by chance. It is little-known but a treasure.
The book is about boxing and low life, faded dreams, lack of prospects, booze, rooming houses, failed relationships in a small California town. The two primary characters are Billy Tully and Ernie Munger. Billy at age 29 is a washed-up fighter who has lost his wife and several jobs and is sinking deeply into alcohol and oblivion. Ernie is 19 years old and a boxer who may have potential. He marries a young women named Faye, after getting her pregnant, and takes up the ring as a professional in order to support his wife and child.
The paths of the two men cross in the gym at the beginning of the book and their careers take parallel courses. Billy had lost an important fight in Panama some years earlier when his manager, Ruben Luna, forced him to travel alone to Panama in order to save on expenses. He makes an attempted comeback at the age of 30 and actually wins a decision in a brutal match with an aging Mexican fighter. He returns to fighting to try to save himself from depression over the loss of his wife, his lack of prospects, and his loneliness.
Ernie Munger is young and works at a gas station. Although he has some boxing potential, his skills appear limited. As had been the case with Tully years earlier, Ruben Luna sends Munger out of town, (to Las Vegas) for a fight to save on the expenses. This is Munger's first professional fight which proves more successful for him than did Tully's fight in Panama.
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Format: Paperback
Short novel, published in 1969, about two boxers, Billy Tully, who is 29 and down and out, and Ernie Mugger, who is 18 and up and coming, two versions of the same man, in some respects. Terrific skilled prose, short chapters, switching points of view between these two main characters and an assortment of other minor characters. The author takes you inside the characters' deepest despair or elation. How simple the author makes it look, one thinks, reading this book. But of course it is not. The prose is precise and honed, and looks easy only after who knows how many drafts. There are only 18 or 19 short chapters, and much of the novel is dialogue. But somehow one comes away with a panoramic view of Stockton, California, this woeful place, and the people the inhabit it - the immigrant fruit pickers, the bartenders and bar girls, the hobos on the street. The descriptions are compact and dead-on. About Billy Tully's hotel room: "All his neighbors had lung trouble." One could quote sentences from this book almost at will, the prose is so spare and perfect.

That the author never published another book, and that this was his first, is incredible. To write this cleanly and confidently, he must have practiced and studied for years. Yet to never do it again.
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