"Flesh and Blood" is a powerful story. For one thing, Mr. Hamill's boxing material seems unusually savvy and authentic, though it's hard to say whether this is a purely technical achievement or the result of Mr. Hamill's having thinly disguised several actual figures in the profession…. Whatever the case, the boxing passages are a good deal more sophisticated than they are in most fiction of this sort. For once we can really believe it when Caputo tells his young charge, "You're not a fighter. You're a bum. An Irish bum … But I can make you a fighter." And he does. (p. C29)
Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, in The New York Times (© 1977 by The New York Times Company; reprinted with permission), November 18, 1977.
Blond blue-eyed Bobby Fallon is a tough Brooklyn Irish kid with a hunger to slay dragons. His fists hit like a mule kicking downhill. When he throws a punch, a scream bellows his rage, for his world is an endless chain of enemies.
The torment of Pete Hamill's hero [in "Flesh and Blood"] is an erotic passion for his mother Kate, a beautiful half-Shoshone woman of 36 with a poignant, enigmatic smile. Kate, in turn, miserably lonely at the desertion of her dashing husband Jack, transfers her love to Bobby. In this savage novel there are no priests to condemn their sinning, nor are they tormented by conscience. Son and mother love and make love repeatedly, dominated by their irrepressible need for each other….
Hamill writes through the voice of his hero, sometimes in the first person, sometimes in the second—stark staccato sentences designed to sting, building suspense that is rooted in character, relentlessly knifing through Bobby's ferocity.
In prison for punching out a cop in a barroom brawl, Bobby punches out his frustrations: "I lived in a world where being white was being alone. It was different from the others. They were all black or Puerto Ricans. They had each other. But I was white. Being unbeatable was my only edge." Later, a reporter writes that he boxed "like a man imprisoned in solitude, unaware of the crowd, unaware of anything but the presence of an enemy." And Bobby says of himself: "I made every fight a war … because if I lost … I was in terrible trouble. I would become nothing again." And through it all, Hamill gives us the jargon: a knocked-out fighter, for instance, is "a tomato can." (p. 15)
Hamill's hero is brought to the final crucible, fighting for his soul, in combat with everyone … and, most of all, himself. Hamill takes us down to the hard sweaty canvas with him, and there's nothing pretty about it.
If you like such fables of the fight game served up tough and sordid with the lyrical strains of "Danny Boy" to sweeten the anguish of Oedipus, here is a taut, punchy read that makes "Rocky" seem like a fairy tale. (p. 46)
Eliot Asinof, "Some Oedipus, Some Danny Boy," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1977 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 20, 1977, pp. 15, 46.
Robert Stephen Spitz
Pete Hamill's previous novels (A Killing for Christ, The Gift) have been cogent, mannered vignettes about Brooklyn life. In Flesh and Blood, Hamill has unfortunately succumbed to the ignoble television-bred myth that the public will respond positively only to recycled pulp. However, despite its commercial obeisance, this book illuminates the author's ability to capture with stylized brio the nuances of the aching underbelly of society. That sensitivity in itself warrants a modicum of respect, with a cautious eye to the future….
Flesh and Blood is an engrossing enough study of the lineal knot that becomes slowly untied. It travels the Rocky road, and while it "coulda been a contenduh," it emerges as only a pretender to the crown. (p. 40)
Robert Stephen Spitz, in Saturday Review (© 1978 by Saturday Review Magazine Corp.; reprinted with permission), January 7, 1978.