In the novel Fat City by Leonard Gardner, the reader is introduced to two men at different times of their lives. Both look to boxing as a way to earn money and respect. One is Billy Tully, and the other is Ernie Munger.
Billy is a semi-retired boxer who is hoping to return to the ring to revive his boxing career and win back his ex-wife, Oma.
Ernie Munger is a young man just starting out in the world of boxing: he has the talent and potential to make a name for himself.
These two men meet at the YMCA and start on the path to potential success through boxing. However, Billy is out of shape, has to work a second job, lacks self-confidence, and drinks heavily in a variety of "dives" (shabby, rundown bars, etc.). Where he should be spending his time regaining what he has lost in the ring, he is distracted by things that ultimately drive him back down.
Ernie and his girlfriend marry because she is pregnant. Ernie works hard and experiences some success, but something here is missing for him as well. By the end of the novel, the reader has no more faith in Ernie's ability to come through—even though the potential is there—than in Billy's ability to regain what he has lost. The big difference, of course, is that Billy is pretty much "washed up" while Ernie is young enough that he could make it, if only...
Ernie and Billy both have something missing inside—perhaps it is a fire or a hunger to change. Perhaps it is a lack of self-confidence, or the inability to truly commit themselves to something that demands their complete dedication: they may simply lack passion. (For example, while Billy wanted his wife back, by the end, he is so lost, he simply wants anyone woman there that he can turn to. His desire is greater than his willingness to do everything possible to win Oma back.)
In my opinion, the theme I see here is that life cannot come to you: you must meet life head-on. And it must be done with complete dedication and unwavering motivation. Everyone experiences obstacles, disappointments and heartaches, but many people are so committed, that nothing can stand in their way.
The message I gather from Gardner's book is that one must be truly dedicated to one's purpose in order to achieve it, and avoid those things or individuals that people sometimes invite into their lives that bring with them failure and loss of hope.