Chris Lynch was the fifth of seven children raised in the Jamaica Plains neighborhood of Boston by Edward Lynch, a bus driver, and his wife Dorothy O'Brien Lynch, who worked as a receptionist. The community was originally one of the historic Irish districts of Boston, but by the time Lynch was born in 1962, it also included a large Hispanic population. Lynch's father died when he was five, and he recalls that his mother "did a good job of covering it up, but things were pretty lean back then." Lynch attended Catholic schools on the primary and secondary level and while he describes himself as not "what you'd call bookish," he enjoyed belonging to a Dr. Seuss Book Club because he liked getting "my own book in the mail." His favorite reading in the early grades included military histories and biographies of sports figures "but not fiction. Not yet." While his grammar school experiences were generally pleasant, he was unhappy in high school, which he remembers as "an all-boys football factory" where "nothing like the arts was encouraged in any way." He had enjoyed sports until then, but was repelled by the rigidity of the athletic programs in his high school, which fostered a "macho ethos and let athletes run wild."
His discomfort with the direction and atmosphere of the school led him to drop out during his junior year, and after completing the necessary requirements, he enrolled at Boston University as a political science major. Dissatisfied with the program, he was excited by a course in newswriting which gave him a sense of his true vocation. He transferred to Suffolk University where he took more courses toward a journalism major, including a novel writing class which "helped lead me closer to what I was really going for all the time." Still essentially ruled by a social ethic that excluded the possibility of an artistic career, Lynch spent six years after graduating in a variety of jobs, working as a house painter and a moving van driver before taking a position as a proofreader of financial reports. The drudgery of that task "can really give a person a kind of shove," Lynch has commented. "I figured there had to be something more out there," and he enrolled in a master's degree program in publishing and journalism at Emerson University in 1989. He feels that he was still avoiding his calling as a writer at this time, "hiding, you know," by thinking of himself as an editor rather than a creative writer. He did not tell his mother what he was actually doing until "after I published my first book," Shadow Boxer, in 1993.
Shadow Boxer developed out of an assignment in a class on children's writing where he was asked to write five pages on a childhood incident. As Lynch told J. Sydney Jones in an interview:
I had a vague idea of writing some things my brother and I had done in our youth, but as soon as I sat down with it, I was off to the races. The stuff just poured out. Before this all my adult fiction had been too stylized, what everybody else was doing. What I thought was expected of me. I had no emotional investment in my own work; and that makes all the difference. With this assignment, the very first words actually made it into the actual published book. I was fortunate to discover early in my career that one bit of writing magic—matching yourself and your material.
Lynch wrote about sixty percent of the novel in class and finished the book in 1992. He estimates that about one fifth of the book is based on autobiographical material in a narrative that follows two brothers trying to deal with the death of their father, a moderately talented but dedicated professional prize fighter. One of the features of the novel is Lynch's use of an episodic structure, a technique which he found "incredibly liberating" since he did not see smooth transitions in his own life. He identifies Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio as a crucial influence in this regard, and says that Joan Didion's Play It As It Lays helped him to understand a method for...
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