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A Boston Globe Best Book of the Year
In this stunning historical fiction debut set in the world of wrestling in the 1920s, a husband and wife are set adrift in a place where everyone has something to hide and not even the fights can be taken at face value.
Late summer, 1921: Disgraced former lightweight champion Pepper Van Dean has spent the past two years on the carnival circuit performing the dangerous “hangman’s drop” and taking on all comers in nightly challenge bouts. But when he and his cardsharp wife, Moira, are marooned in the wilds of Oregon, Pepper accepts an offer to return to the world of wrestling as a trainer for Garfield Taft, a down-and-out African American heavyweight contender in search of a comeback and a shot at the world title.
At the training camp in rural Montana, Pepper and Moira soon realize that nothing is what it seems: not Taft, the upcoming match, or the training facility itself. With nowhere to go and no options left, Pepper and Moira must carefully navigate the world of gangsters, bootlegging, and fixed competitions, in the hope that they can carve out a viable future.
A story of second chances and a sport at the cusp of major change, Champion of the World is a wonderful historical debut from a new talent in fiction.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.50(d)|
About the Author
Chad Dundas earned his MFA from the University of Montana, and his short fiction has appeared in the Beloit Fiction Journal, Sycamore Review, Sou’Wester, and Thuglit. Since 2001, he’s worked as a sportswriter for national outlets including ESPN, NBC Sports, Sporting News, Bleacher Report, and the Associated Press, as well as local and regional newspapers. A fourth-generation Montanan, he lives with his wife and children in Missoula.
Reading Group Guide
Champion of the World Reading Group Guide
1. Consider the protagonists of Champion of the World, married couple Pepper and Moira Van Dean. What are the strengths and weaknesses of each? How would you describe their marriage?
2. The novel is set during a time when professional wrestling was beginning to transition from a pure sport to more of a choreographed entertainment. How does this change play out in the novel? What are the reasons for it?
3. Compare and contrast the two main female characters, Moira Van Dean and Carol Jean Taft. What do they have in common, and in what ways are they different? What similar struggles do they face? What unique ones?
4. How does Champion of the World illustrate the troubled confluence of race and sport at a particular time in history—the 1920s? To what extent is this relationship still problematic?
5. How does the relationship between Pepper and Taft change and grow over the course of the novel?
6. Several characters in the novel—including Taft and sometimes Pepper—seem intent on pursuing courses of action that are destined to lead to failure. What motivates them? Are they deluding themselves, or might there be some sense in following a losing course? Could you understand their actions?
7. Much of the novel is set in the author’s native Montana, and Chad Dundas brings a strong sense of place to the story. What purpose does this setting serve? Why is it integral to the story?
8. The plotline takes several big twists and turns. Did you expect any of them? Which surprised you?
9. In many ways, the novel is a story of second chances: Pepper and Moira, Taft and Carol Jean, James Eddy, even Fritz Mundt are all seeking a fresh start and new opportunities. Which characters come out on top, and which can’t seem to change their lives? What factors hold some of them back, and which traits push the others forward?
10. One of the benefits of reading historical fiction is learning more about the places and times depicted. Did you take away any interesting new facts from Champion of the World?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A wonderful debut novel from the mind of Chad Dundas. Dundas uses his skillful character development to create a cast of characters who thrive in the gritty world in which the novel is set. This book touches on prohibition, racism, sexuality, and the end (or beginning) of an area for the sport of professional wrestling. A wonderful story that is sure to pull a full range of emotions from the readers. I am excited to see what Dundas does to follow up this fantastic debut.