I was thinking of starting this review with a quote from the book, but since there are way too many things I can quote I didn’t. The Knockout Artist can be described in very few words: Weird, original and absolutely awesome.
The book is about Eugene Biggs, a redneck from Georgia who has been abandoned by his former boxing coach Budd. Eugene was a rising star in the boxing world until he got knocked out for the first time in his first big fight. Eugene was a very skilled fighter and quick on his feet. He had a good chin and had never been knocked down before. But this fight changed everything. All the fights he fought after being knocked out for the first time, were lost by knockout. His chin had become so vulnerable that he could knock himself out. And this is how the story starts. Alone in New Orleans he is employed as an act for rich people. His show consists of him knocking himself out. Not like this though:
But more like this guy
Harry Crews describes Eugene’s feelings (when he’s going to knock himself out or when he’s waking up again) very well. And Eugene has a strong character too. He doesn’t like to think about anything. Everything is fine the way it is and if he thinks about anything for more than three seconds, he gets a headache. Later in the book he meets a PhD student named Charity. Charity wants to write a paper on Eugene and his life and also wants him to be her lover. In exchange for this Eugene gets a brand new apartment in a rich neighborhood in New Orleans. His life is extremely depressing but has some funny moments too. The conversations with his best friend Pete are quite amusing to read since both of them are pretty dumb. The parts where Charity and Eugene are having sex are pretty funny too because Charity interviews Eugene while they’re doing it. I didn’t really believe that she was actually interviewing him while they were busy but after reading the whole part again I found out that she was really interviewing him.
Even though the book is funny sometimes, most of it is pretty serious. Eugene actually lives a lie. He tells his father back home in Georgia that he’s a good boxer and wins all his fights by Knockout. This is kind of ironic since he actually does fight and always wins by knockout. But instead of fighting another fighter he fights himself and he wins by knocking himself out.
Fortunately his life gets better when one day he decides to stop doing what he does. He then gets the opportunity to manage and train a boxer. This chance is given to him by a billionaire named Blasingame, also known as Oysterboy, who Eugene meets after his last performance. Everything seems to get better but the ending is very surprising, just like some other events in the book. An example of another surprising event is when the reader finds out that Tulip(Pete’s Girlfriend) is addicted to drugs.
Harry Crews tells a very long story in a very small amount of pages. That’s probably the only negative thing that can be said about this book. The book ended a little too soon. The rest of the book is very well-written and has a very moving storyline. The characters are strong and well-described. The Providence Sunday Journal called the Knockout Artist; ‘’meat and potatoes with Spanish fly seasoning. A stunning book, frequently horrifying.’’ I could not agree more. The book is pretty horrifying sometimes. There is one part where Crews describes how Pete shoots heroin in his girlfriend’s elbow. That was pretty nasty since it was described pretty detailed and the place where they were was kind of scary too.
Weird is the best word to describe this book. You really start wondering what goes on in Harry Crews’ mind. But the book is very original and moving and the writer definitely deserves a lot of credit and respect for writing this book.