THE COCKFIGHTER paints a scenario of a young boy’s entrance into a harsh version of adolescence, if not maturity. Sonny’s mother is still clutching at her son, not wanting to give him over to her gross, rough and tumble husband, Jake, for the next training period of his life. Wanting some kind of positive attention from his father, Sonny unwittingly walks into his father’s world doing everything he can do in his limited awareness of life and especially of cock fighting, to please his father. Sonny is a sensitive child wanting desperately to grow up, to “be a man” which he understands as being like his dad and being tough. He has no understanding of the possibility that loving and being “a man” could take place at the same time. He has not really experienced love in this dysfunctional family and the ways he seeks it are clearly described with a touching poignancy.
There are few characters in THE COCKFIGHTER and Frank Manley gives the reader a complete image of each one. Homer, Sonny’s hopelessly alcoholic uncle, epitomizes the futility and failures one can see in life. He loves the boy, but his outlook is mired in self-destructive desires where he loses all direction and control. Sonny’s mother is equally helpless in her ability to stand up to her overbearing and closed-minded husband. Her needs, instincts, and love are in the right place, but she too is incapable of acting on them. Sonny is left in the midst of this inept group, facing loss, loneliness, and fortunately, choice. The choices he makes are surprising and gripping.
Perhaps the greatest charm of this little novel is the long and difficult chapter which awaits this young boy after he does set foot into the world of adolescence.