Pete Hamill Eliot Asinof - Essay

Eliot Asinof

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.