If you're going to read THE PROFESSIONAL written by the great sports writer W.C. Heinz (who also wrote MASH), skip the foreward by Elmore Leonard until you've read the book. The ditz gives away the ending.
Other than that, the book is pretty much what one might expect after reading the blurb by Hemingway: "THE PROFESSIONAL is the only good novel about a fighter I've read and an excellent novel in its own right." It reminded me a whole lot of THE SUN ALSO RISES. Rather than the minutia of fishing and bullfighting we get boxing: how to wrap a fighter's hands, how the fighter eats during training (Lots of tea and boiled eggs), how to fake a missed right hand, followed by a left hook. All of this is narrated by a somewhat cynical sports writer named Frank Hughes, who follows middle weight fighter Eddie Brown around as he prepares for a championship bout. Eddie is the professional in the title. He's fought ninety times, losing only three, one of which his manager, Doc Carroll, set him up to lose because he was becoming too cocky. W.C. Heinz has a pretty good reason for entitling the book, THE PROFESSIONAL. Carroll resents the champion because he's pretty much all glitz and show. At one point Heinz has his narrator say, "The amateurs have always crowded the highways to everywhere, so it's never been easy for the pros to get through."
I've never been a big Hemingway fan, but this book is chock full of interesting minor characters. There's Eddie's "cold fish" of a wife. There's Johnny Jay, the trainer, a non-stop talker who never makes a whole lot of sense, but is tolerated because he was Doc Carroll's first fighter. There's Al Penna, who steals a ring off a dead man's finger. But my favorite is Jean Girot the recovering alcoholic who owns the hotel at the training camp. He's sad because he misses his favorite drink, the dry martini, which he took nips from out of a milk bottle.
If you're looking for an action packed novel, this one's not for you. There's really only one fight scene and that's at the end when Eddie fights for the title; but if you're tired of the "same old same old" THE PROFESSIONAL fits the bill.
Eddie Brown, known as "The Pro" for his mature, professional approach to boxing, is a contender for the Middleweight Championship. Sportswriter Frank Hughes, the narrator of the novel, spends a month at a boxing camp in the Catskills with Eddie and his cantankerous old-school manager, Doc Carroll, to observe their training and pre-bout preparation for use in a magazine article. Because this will be the peaking Eddie's best shot at the title, as well as the aging Doc's final opportunity to see one of his charges crowned as world champion, the tension surrounding the bout is intense and addictive.
A simple story, to be sure, but it is not the story line per se that interests Mr. Heinz. Rather, he uses the world of boxing as a medium to distinguish the few, heroic champions from the multitude of pretenders. This echoes Papa Hemingway's view of the world, where people must be separated into those who have grace under pressure and those who are phony imitators. Boxing, like Hemingway's bullfighting, succeeds wonderfully as a backdrop for development of this theme, particularly given the prevalence of corruption in the sport, the number of unskilled athletes and managers, and the increased focus on profiteering by the media with the advent of the television age.
My sport is running, not boxing. Yet I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. The author's dissection of what it really means to be a champion, how the code by which an athlete lives and competes is every bit as important as the result of the competition. Despite a few holier-than-thou passages, in which the author may have gone a bit overboard in drawing his distinction between the heroes and the anti-heroes, this is an impressive work harkening back to a time when there was a greater appreciation for a straight-forward story told in the journalistic style perfected by Hemingway.
Kevin Joseph, author of "The Champion Maker"
on March 2, 2013
Getting cover hype from Ernest Hemingway could be a curse if the writer on the receiving end of the praise isn't able to deliver, but W.C. Heinz answers the bell decisively in this very fine novel. And I leave the modifier "sports" off deliberately. It's an excellent novel -- period.
Told from the perspective of a sportwriter developing a magazine piece on a fighter, Eddie Brown, training for a championship bout, The Professional gives us a day-to-day look at boxers preparing for the ring. The writer wants to live his subject's life to the greatest extent possible, so he spends all his time in camp with Eddie and his manager, the memorably crusty Doc Carroll. We get the drudgery and hard work of training, the talk of strategy, jokes and gamesmanship and most of all the stories of the past, all told in a finely controlled narrative voice that jabs and snaps. The writer, Frank Hughes, is as cynical as they come, but he's drawn to fighters because their calling, in his view, is to face irreducible truth found in the boxing ring, a place where there is no escape from the finality of victory or defeat. And Heinz brings a fine air of tension to it all, particularly in his portray of Doc, who we know is probably getting a final shot at producing a champion.
In a very few places, the prose becomes overwrought, mostly when Frank attempts to articulate his love of boxing. But those passages are more than made up for by the fine, spare descriptive lines, the dryly humorous interactions and the moments of emotion unsullied by sentimentality, most notably the scenes surrounding the death of Eddie's trainer, Jay. These characters are not ones to put their hearts on their sleeves, yet Heinz believably transmits their sense of loss.
I must say I was disappointed by the end, which of course I won't spoil here, not because it was badly written but because it didn't match what I was expecting. But others may disagree. Decide for yourself. The Professional is one solid knockout.
on February 4, 2015
I hope you like Hemingway because this novel is very much in his minimalist style. I have no doubt that Heinz was a great sports writer but I found this novel mostly dull. It focuses on bland conversations between various boxers and trainers in a hotel as the main character (a sports writer) is chronicling the training of a boxer practicing for a championship bout. There were a few interesting conversations between the main character and a character named Doc but that wasn't enough to save the novel. I skimmed ahead to the championship bout after reading the first 175 pages carefully. The final bout was what I would describe as "artistic cliche".
on August 29, 2013
I bought this for my boyfriend for Christmas but he hasn't touched it yet, finally I picked it up because I was determined that someone in our house would finish the book before next Christmas came around. In my opinion, the true determining factor of whether a book is good or not is how sad I am after I'm done reading it. How empty I feel because it's presence is no longer in my everyday life. After finishing this book I never wanted to read another book again. I am a female and not an athlete however Heinz delivered well enough for me to become fully engulfed in this book by showing the other side of boxing, the side that's not on TV, the side that's romantic. I recommend purchasing this book for anyone intelligent that enjoys a good read. Male or female, athlete or not.
on April 8, 2015
Written in Ernest Hemingway's signature minimalist style, THE PROFESSIONAL is a fine, unsparing novel that chronicles top contender Eddie Brown's quest for the middleweight title from training camp in upstate New York through the brutal championship bout under the bright lights at Madison Square Garden. Eddie is guided in his journey by grizzled, hard-bitten manager/trainer Doc Carroll and accompanied by amiable sportswriter Frank Hughes, who narrates the action and struggles to maintain his journalistic detachment as his admiration for his subjects' quiet professionalism grows. Heinz occasionally gets bogged down with the minutiae of Eddie's training regimen and the ending is somewhat anticlimactic, but THE PROFESSIONAL is teeming with interesting, well-developed characters and presents a remarkably realistic account of the fight game and the training a boxer undergoes for a big bout. Ultimately, this is a novel concerned with the nature of mastery and the thin, often indiscriminate line that can mean the difference between eminence and obscurity.
on November 16, 2015
This edition comes with a foreward by Elmore Leonard, and I can see why. W. C. Heinz was an excellent writer, who stripped things down to their absolute essentials. He wasn't one to explain what people were thinking, or describe their characteristics, preferring instead to let you figure it out by the things they say and the way they act. As Leonard points out in his foreward, this is a good book for any aspiring writer to read. That lean style may not be your cup of tea, but no one has ever done it better than Heinz does it here.
on March 13, 2014
but a bit dated. I saw it on one of those "bucket" lists of books that you simply have to read before you buy the farm. I don't think it's quite that but if you like boxing, you'll enjoy this.
on April 4, 2016
Sixty years old, this remains one the very finest, best told boxing novels ever written. Using a first-person point of view, The Professional uses clear and characters distinctive dialogues to not only carry the vast burden of the story but also to give us the cadences, feel and distinct nature of every character in the story, from the narrator, a journalist covering fighter Eddie Brown through to the most minor of characters.
Set in the few weeks leading up to and including a title bout, the author,himself a veteran sports writer, paints as clear a portrait of the endless hours of work, discipline, and thought that go into what is required of anyone who takes up the gloves, either as amateur or pro and sets out into the ring. As much character study as anything,the action in the story is saved for the final pages, yet the pace is well timed by the conversations between the many fighters, managers and trainers who populate the story.
I read few novels set around sports, but this one rewards anyone who picks thus book up. A well deserved 5 stars
on July 5, 2013
I'm not a fan of boxing, but you don't have to be to enjoy this book. It's about people, their hopes, fears, triumphs, and failures. It's a book about life and you can't help but get drawn into it. The characters become real and you find yourself liking them and rooting for them. There's reality in the story and it's not always the way we want it to be, but isn't that life? I wish the ending were different, but I think, if it was it would detract from the story. Don't read the intro by Elmore Leonard until after you read the book, it gives away the ending.
I highly recommend this book.