Sunday, July 07, 2013

Book Review - Donnybrook by Frank Bill

Frank Bill
Trade Paperback
Publisher: FSG Originals
Publication Date: March 5, 2013
ISBN-13: 978-0374532895
256 pages


    don·ny·brook/ˈdɒniˌbrʊk/[don-ee-brook] an inordinately wild fight or contentious dispute; brawl; free-for-all. Also called Donnybrook Fair.

     The Orange County, Indiana Donnybrook Fair is a three day all-out no-holds barred fist-fight featuring pugilists, bare-knuckle fighters, self-defense experts, martial artists, and hand-to-hand combatants from all walks of life. It’s the rowdiest and most physically violent party you’ll find anywhere in America. One hundred brave men vie for $100K in cash prizes and thousands of spectators come to watch, bet on their favorite fighters, carouse, argue, ingest drugs, get drunk on moonshine and cheap beer, and get laid. It is, in fact, what Jarhead Earl, a bare-knuckle fighter, reasons is the only redemption he’s ever likely to find.

     Jarhead has seen better days. He has no job, no money, and no prospects for the future and with two young mouths to feed and a woman with an Oxycontin monkey on her back he sets off from Kentucky to the Donnybrook to stake his claim. But before he can enter the fight Jarhead needs the $1,000 entry fee and a man with nothing to lose will do just about anything to get back to square again, including robbing a gun shop, for exactly $1,000.

     One thing Donnybrook isn't is high literature and thank-goodness for that. This imaginative novel is filled with some of the most interesting “language” I've read in a very long time. It is coarse, dark, ribald, dirty, low, and so very crisp. It's colloquial, explicit and beautiful. It is Hunter S. Thompson meets Charles Bukowski meets outhouse scribbling. And that makes Donnybrook all kinds of a great read. The characters are the dregs, drug addicts, and lost souls of an unemployable, broken region of the mid-west. Flawed, American, and itching for a fight every character is as hard as nails and would just as soon throw a punch your way as smile at you. But Frank Bill takes us deep into the heart and soul of the protagonist and we identify with him and are moved by his desire to improve his situation and care for his family, no matter how messed up the methods. And that's what makes this book so entertaining. There's blood and sex and drugs and booze and addiction and cruelty and redemption and love and the complexities of the human condition connecting them all.

     Frank Bill has a magnificent gift for creating realistic, layered settings filled with striking language and vivid, poetic succinctness. He can carve an entire Kentucky County in two short sentences, explain the intricacies of bare-fisted fighting in fewer words than I’ve used in this paragraph, and can craft impactful and colloquial dialogue like a veteran writer. In fact, his dialogue reminded me very much of Cormac McCarthy’s homespun language. It’s simple storytelling but expresses the complex emotions and thoughts of desperate, lost characters. And that’s the brilliance of this story. Donnybrook is entertaining, fun, violent, coarse, dirty, addictive and just waiting for a Hollywood producer to turn it into a blockbuster movie. I personally hope a sequel is in the making…

     File with: Bare-knuckled fist fights, Raging Bull, pulp fiction, Every Which Way But Loose, The Quiet Man, colloquialism, Fight Club, Snatch, drug and alcohol abuse, The Iliad, Macbeth, Ivanhoe, guns and guts, The Song of Roland, torture, Beowulf, and Suttree, Child of God, and The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

5 out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Official Author Website

Donnybrook Amazon Page

Donnybrook Review

Donnybrook MacMillan Page

Donnybrook Excerpt

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