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Million Dollar Baby: Stories from the Corner

Million Dollar Baby: Stories from the Corner

5.0 3
by F. X. Toole

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Seventy-year-old F.X. Toole has exploded onto the literary scene with this astonishing first collection of stories drawn from his own experiences in boxing. In these powerful and moving tales, he reveals a complex web of athletes, trainers, and promoters and their extended families, all players in an unforgiving business where victory, like defeat, comes at a dark


Seventy-year-old F.X. Toole has exploded onto the literary scene with this astonishing first collection of stories drawn from his own experiences in boxing. In these powerful and moving tales, he reveals a complex web of athletes, trainers, and promoters and their extended families, all players in an unforgiving business where victory, like defeat, comes at a dark and painful price.

F. X. Toole breathes life into vivid, compelling characters who radiate the fierce intensity of the worlds they inhabit. In The Monkey Look, an aging cut man with an incorrigible sweet tooth works the corner for Hoolie, a featherweight bleeder with attitude. Black Jew brings Reggie Valentine Love and his camp to a brutal elimination bout in Atlantic City, where they are treated like second-class citizens by a promoter. In Million $$$ Baby, seasoned trainer Frankie Dunn faces the most daunting challenge of his life when he agrees to aid the fearless Maggie Fitzgerald in her quest to become a champion boxer. Fightin' in Philly and Frozen Water are stories in which youthful dreams of glory and celebrity are threatened by the harsh realities that suffuse both of these narratives. The novella Rope Burns is the crowning achievement of the collection, offering a gritty, heartrending account of the indestructible bond that develops between a devoted fighter and his trainer.

In Rope Burns F.X. bole exhibits the skill of a miniaturist: in precise and exquisite detail, he peoples a world rich in unforgettable characters, like Señora Cabrera, the owner of the Acapulco café, who makes low-fat refried beans to keep a local fighter in top form, and an anonymous museum guard with a soft spotfor Michelangelo. Toole's faithful dialogue crackles and bites, and the flawed characters he creates cannot help but remind us of our own too fragile humanity. He brings a new understanding to the violence and purity of the sweet science and the world it engenders, opening a window into the fighter's soul that can never he closed.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Post
Move over Frank and Malachy McCourt. A new gray-haired, streetwise Irish-American writer appears to be ready to burst upon the publishing world.
Kirkus Reviews
A debut collection of six stories about the world of boxing, from an insider who finds beauty in its ugliness, sweetness in its savagery.
Library Journal
A boxing cut man uses swabs, pressure, ice, and home-mixed salve to stop his fighter's bleeding between rounds. Toole, 70, whose experience as a cut man inspired this hard-boiled debut collection of contemporary fight stories, writes with blunt authority about this world. His strongest tales feature old trainers or cut men like himself, wisely noble holdovers from boxing's Hibernian age. Toole's old-fashioned modern stories often deal in broad ethnic types--hillbillies and homeboys, "4-dollar whores," Irish trainers exclaiming "Jaysus!"--but the real fight world is littered with such contrasts. His coldly plotted novella "Million $$$ Baby" begins like the most familiar old pulp story of the grumpy veteran trainer and the eager would-be student; then Toole freshens the clich by making the boxer an innocent young woman from the Ozarks. Here and there, though, Toole's authenticity breaks down, as in the unconvincing stories that lean heavily on black street dialog, "Frozen Water" and "Black Jew." Overall, his tales distinguish themselves by staying in the heartbreaking thick of it, never using boxing na vely as a savage metaphor for life (some life!). As a storyteller, Toole is both sentimental as a bar song and as cruelly precise as the sport he chronicles. Recommended for large fiction collections.--Nathan Ward, "Library Journal" Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
[A] magnificent debut...You may feel you've gone a couple of rounds yourself after this emotional wallop of a read.
Entertainment Weekly
The New Yorker
Riveting stories...A less confident author might try to dress up such simple material with flashy prose. But Toole is a traditionalist, enamored of boozy romanticism and colorful vernacular, and when he throws a punch it usually finds its target.
Allen Barra
Toole's prose is sharp and jablike, and at its best comes at you with the rhythm of a good gym fighter working on the speed bag. Toole has a talent for illuminating the thoughts of the near illiterate but streetwise... this is an impressive collection...
The New York Times Book Review
Publisher's Weekly
The story of the 69-year-old author of this astonishing first fiction collection is a salutary one; he wrote between gigs tending boxers in their corners as a "cut man" (who stanches the blood flow and allows fights to continue), finally got a story published by a small literary magazine, was spotted by a keen-eyed agent and achieved book publication. It's amazing it took so long, because Irish-born Toole, now living and working in Los Angeles, is a natural. His knowledge of the bizarre world of professional boxing is encyclopedic and utterly persuasive, his prose is as tight as a well-laced pair of gloves and his protagonists, in this collection of five stories and a novella, are mythically heroic (and occasionally evil) but convincing archetypes. "The Money Look" is an exquisite turning-the-tables yarn at the expense of a cynical crook of a fighter; "Black Jew" is a telling tale of humble ambition woven with the lure of big money. A lacerating account of a courageous, deeply endearing hillbilly woman fighter and her sad fate, "Million $$$ Baby," is arguably the best story in the book. "Fightin' in Philly" is an almost equally moving tale of the toll the ambition to be a title fighter takes on a man. Another innocent torn up by the fight game is portrayed in "Frozen Water." Only the title novella, "Rope Burns," falls somewhat behind the sterling standard set by the other stories, with their firm authority and dead-on dialogue. It is more ambitious, even operatic, in its pitting of an almost superhumanly noble Olympic contender against a low-life East Los Angeles gang member at the time of the Rodney King riots. Like all of Toole's stories, it's breathlessly readable, even though the climactic bloodshed feels forced, as if Toole's cool narrative style cannot bear so much melodramatic freight. But make no mistake, the man is a heavyweight fiction contender. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|

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Million Dollar Baby
Stories from the Corner

Chapter One

The Monkey Look

I stop blood.

I stop it between rounds for fighters so they can stay in the fight.

Blood ruins some boys. It was that way with Sonny Liston, God rest his soul. Bad as he was, he'd see his own blood and fall apart.

I'm not the one who decides when to stop the fight, and I don't stitch up cuts once the fight's over. And it's not my job to hospitalize a boy for brain damage. My Job is to stop blood so the fighter can see enough to keep on fighting. I do that, maybe I save a boy's title. I do that one little thing, and I'm worth every cent they pay me. I stop the blood and save the fight, the boy loves me more than he loves his daddy.

But you can't always stop it. Fight guys know this. If the cut's too deep or wide, or maybe you got a severed vein down in there, the blood keeps coming. Sometimes it takes two or three rounds to stop the blood, maybe more-the boy's heart is pumping so hard, or he cuts more. Once you get the coagulant in there, sometimes it takes another shot from the opponent right on the cut itself to drive the blood far enough from the area so the stuff you're using can start to work. What I'm saying is there are all kinds of combinations you come up against down in the different layers of meat. When a good cut man stays ahead of the combinations, he can stop most cuts, but not every one.

Fights can be stopped for a lot of reasons. A football eye swollen shut can stop a fight. But fights aren't stopped just because a fighter is cut. It's where he's cut. Below the eye, or alongside it, that won't usually stop a fight. Neither will a cut if it's in or above the eyebrow, or up in the forehead, or in the scalp. Broken nose? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. A cut in the eyelid, because of possible damage to the eyeball and the threat of blindness, that can stop a fight quick. So will blood pumping down into a boy's eyes. Blood can blind a fighter, maybe cost him the fight, or worse, because when he can't see he starts taking shots he wouldn't otherwise take, and now he ends up on his ass blinking through the lights and shadows of future memories.

Boy gets cut, I always crack the seal of a new, one-ounce bottle of adrenaline chloride solution 1:1000 When it's fresh, it's clear like water but has a strong chemical smell. The outdated stuff turns a light pinkish color, or a pale piss-yellow. When that happens, it couldn't stop fly blood. I might pour adrenaline into a small plastic squeeze bottle if I need to use sterile gauze pads along with a swab, but I never use adrenaline from a previous fight. I dump it, even if three quarters of it is left. This way it can't carry blood over from another fight, and none of my boys can get AIDS from contaminated coagulant. I'd give AIDS to myself before I'd give it to one of my boys.

Trainers and managers and fighters call me. They know me from when I used to train fighters. But I got too old and was walking around with my back and neck crippled up all the time from catching punches with the punch mitts. Boxing is a game of half steps and quarter inches, a game where old men belong as much as the young. Without its, there couldn't be fights. Fans think boxing is about being tough. For members of the fancy, the fight game is about getting respect.

My first fight working the corner of Hoolie Garza came after his trainer talked to me, Ike Goody. Ike was a club fighter in the fifties, but like most first-rate trainers, he was never a champ. With the exception of Floyd Patterson, I don't remember another champ who ever made a champion. Hoolie Garza is a twenty-six-pounder, a smart featherweight Mexican boy who thinks he's smarter than he is. Ile was born in Guaymas, a port on the Gulf of California inside Baia. He was raised illegal in East Los Angeles, where he fought, with his big brothers for food. His real name is Julio Cesar Garza, but as a kid he was nicknamed Juli -- in Spanish it's pronounced "hoolie." Juli was Americanized to Hoolie, the way Miguel, or Michael, is sometimes Americanized into Maikito.

After the Korean War, I went to school in Mexico City on the G.I. Bill. I wanted to learn Spanish, maybe teach it. So I hung around with Mexicans rather than other Americans. Some of my friends were bullfighters. I had a fling with the daughter of the secretary to the president of Mexico, a natural blonde who drove a car with license-plate number 32. She, God bless her, was one of the ways I learned Spanish on several levels and in different accents. I usually keep my Spanish to myself, like a lot of Latinos in the U.S. keep their English to themselves. But if they find out and ask about it, I tell them I was a student in Mexico and Spain both, and I say, "Hablo el espanol solo si me conviene-- I speak Spanish only when it's to my advantage." They always smile. Some laugh out loud and wag their finger. A lot of Latino fighters coming to fight in L.A. use me in their corner; some fly me to Vegas. I'm as loyal to them as I am to an American or to an Irishman, which is why I never bet on a fight I'm working -- not on the boy I'm working with, and not on the other fighter. This way, if I somehow screw up and cause my boy to lose, it can never be said that I did business...

Million Dollar Baby
Stories from the Corner
. Copyright © by F. X. Toole. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

F. X. Toole was born in 1930. Having worked as a bullfighter, professional boxing "cut man," taxi driver, and saloon keeper, Toole published his first book of fiction at age seventy. He died in 2002, before seeing his short story "Million Dollar Baby" become an Academy Award-winning film.

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Million Dollar Baby: Stories from the Corner 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A collection of six short stories that provide a clear and unobstructed view into the world of boxing. Each story has it's own theme and plot, but they all provide an excellent insight to what goes on in the gym, on the apron and in the ring. The author does an excellent job of representing all of the true characters of Boxing. Every one of which you can find ringside at a small fight at the Blue Horizon. Note to potential readers: If you dont understand the game and science of boxing, this book will prove difficult.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just love the movie to this but also sad cause when shes fighting close to the end she breaks her neck:(