In Robert Anasi's compelling memoir, a dying blood sport is reincarnated as a metaphor for redemption under flawed circumstances. This is no stock canonization of the ring. Anasi navigates his anguished journey to New York City's Golden Gloves tournament, amateur boxing's most exalted contest, with unfaltering candor and tempered reverence for the fighters' existence. He contemplates what drives him to shackle his body to an obsession so punishing that he begins to lose his memory, once even forgetting where he lives.
The Gloves: A Boxing Chronicle By Robert Anasi
North Point Press, 331 pp., $24
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It is nervy of Anasi to dismantle his self-doubts within a genre lately notorious for giving wide berth to crybabies and neurotics both. But he is a deft stylist and leavens the heft of a confessional with wit. "I have small hands (and small feet) for a man," he writes. "Well into my twenties, I wore my shoes too large with the thought (and hope) that my feet would eventually 'grow into them.' " Women, Anasi confides, "have assured me that while folk wisdom may not be true in my case, it generally is." The Gloves is told with unfussy prose, and while the pacing can be uneven and syntax occasionally dawdles, Anasi is resourceful with imagery (describing a lounge singer's "rhinestone gown that gripped her like leeches," for example).
What intrigues foremost about The Gloves, though, is the improbably peculiar genesis of the story. Anasi, then 33 years old, is the rare bird, a skinny, five-foot-six-inch white kid with a degree from Sarah Lawrence when he decides to start preparing for one last round. He joins a gym and finds a trainerthe shrewd, tart-tongued Milton, a rather abusive Puerto Rican showboat who calls him "Elvis" and lavishes his other boys with pet names like "Born Stupid" and "Monica Lewinsky." Eventually, Anasi enlists in Milton's "Supreme Team," a hardscrabble sparring infantry that includes a bus driver with five children, a former gun-dealing Harlem teenager, and a woman champ who found boxing to escape physical abuse at home.
The Gloves is a culturally observant work, and the realities of racism, poverty, and misogyny are interpreted through Anasi's meticulous, peppery reportage on the sociology of the sport. Each boxer's personal odyssey is carefully unspooled by Anasi in luminous, frequently bleak, portraits. These narratives also frame Anasi's conviction that boxing represents struggle, isolation, humility, and the chance to find redemption, because "within the ropes there is more possibility of purity and equality than anywhere else I know." High praise for the writer.