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The Abysmal Brute by Jack London
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The Abysmal Brute

by Jack London

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492238,224 (3.46)4
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    The Game by Jack London (Waldstein)
    Waldstein: The other great boxing tale by Jack London. Strikingly different in every aspect.
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Jack London

The Abysmal Brute

New York: The Century Co., 1913.

169 pp. PDF copy from Internet Archive.

First published in Popular Magazine, 1911.
First published in book form by The Century Company, May 1913.

============================================

Spoilers ahead!

The Abysmal Brute is Jack London’s most famous boxing tale. It is a thinly disguised propaganda that aims, perhaps a little too obviously, to expose the rabid corruption of the boxing ring that was apparently the case in those times. This should not deter the prospective reader. The piece – a shortish novel or, if you will, a longish short story – is superbly crafted and compulsively readable. In addition to vivid descriptions of boxing, it also features humour, drama, adventure and romance. By no means is it perfect, but there is more to it than adolescent escapism.

The plot is short, sweet and complete. Sam Stubener, a prize-fighter manager, receives a mysterious letter from the legendary Pat Glendon, once famous but now rapidly disappearing from human memory, in which he is offered Pat Glendon Jr., a miracle of nature and boxing. Sam takes the arduous journey, by coach and on horseback, from San Francisco to Northern California, for Pat “lived somewhere beyond that”. Pat Glendon Jr. turns out to be a perfect example of the Noble Savage, virtually untainted with the vulgarity of civilization, stronger and more agile than any town rat, with natural flair for boxing that exceeds everything the experienced Sam has ever seen in his time, and on the top of all that, a great lover of poetry. The old man puts his wondrous son in Sam’s care, sternly warning the manager that the boy knows nothing about “the rottenness of the game” and signing a special contract that becomes null and void should anything of the sort turn up. The Young Pat predictably fights his way to the title, attending lectures on Browning and reading Shakespeare’s sonnets instead of training, yet leisurely and gracefully knocking everybody up. Meanwhile, hardly unexpectedly, he falls head over heels in love with a smart and determined young lady, discovers the vast dishonest dimensions of professional prize-fighting, and quits the ring in order to enjoy marital bliss ever after. Before his last fight, in the midst of glorious publicity, he makes a magnificent speech in which he exposes “the rottenness of the game” in all of its ghastly splendour.

The writing is, of course, uneven. The romance is the worst part. It is on high-school level, as hackneyed as they come, and totally unbelievable, though not entirely without tenderness and charm. The boxing is the best part. Punches, clinches and feints are described with swift precision. You could see the fight, hear the crowd, smell the sweat, and indeed almost feel the blows. You don’t have to be a boxing fan to enjoy all this; I certainly am not, but I relish every word. It’s a masterpiece of evocative writing. Now and then, there are touches of delightful humour. When Rough-House Kelly, having been knocked out by Pat with a single punch, regains his consciousness, his reaction is unforgettable:

“What happened?”, he queried hoarsely. “Did the roof fall on me?”

The characters are remarkably diverse, individual and convincing for so short a novel. They are not especially complex, nor do they develop much between the covers, but that should be expected. Mr London’s pithy and precise writing is curiously effective when he describes the essence of his characters. He seldom misses an incident without adding something to Pat’s trusting and ingenuous nature, Maud’s intelligent and strong-willed personality, or Sam Stubener’s shrewdness and worldliness. The fine dialogue helps, too; the gregarious old Pat, an interesting mixture of fatherly pride and boxing acumen, is vividly portrayed through his slangy speech.

The title deserves an explanation. Nifty touch of irony it is. How could the gentle and quiet Pat be called “The Abysmal Brute”? Only by the most stupendously ignorant people on the planet: the press. This is not a superfluous detail. It is neatly integrated into the plot. Since Maud works as a journalist for fun (because she is from a terribly rich family, of course), she and Pat meet for the first time for an interview. Complete reversal of expectations is the foundation of their romance. She expects a brutal, coarse and stupid guy, an “abysmal brute” in short, but she finds a sensitive young man with irreproachable integrity. He has a fear of women ever since that red-haired, poetry-loving schoolteacher “scared him off into the woods”, but here he is confronted with “a WOMAN” (his capitals), beautiful, smart and independent. The mutual shock and his awkwardness make for an amusing scene. It quickly becomes dead serious, though.

The main message may be a little too obvious propaganda, but that, unfortunately, doesn’t make it less relevant to our times. On the contrary, today sport is more commercial than ever before. Greedy bookies and shady deals are anything but extinct species. I wouldn’t be surprised if the dishonest methods exposed in Pat Glendon’s magnificent final speech are still practiced today, not just in boxing but in many other sports as well. But this, of course, is not the main reason to read this brief novel. Read it as a charming period piece full of exciting boxing scenes. Read it for the simple yet compelling characters. Read it, above all, as an unsurpassed example of fast-paced storytelling. ( )
1 vote Waldstein | Jul 18, 2014 |
Pat Glendon is a natural man caught up in the corrupt world of boxing. A young reporter (female) enters his life and opens his eyes to the corruption he has missed. Pat fights one last bout, tells the world of the flaws of boxing, and then moves back into the wilds to live with his lady love. Tarzan/Jane a bit; a precursor to the Natural by Malamud, a return to Eden. Mostly great boxing fight scenes. Not really a book, far closer to a short story or maybe a novella. Set in SF. Pleasant enough
(I didn't read the Swedish version, but it was the only version with a picture on the cover.) ( )
1 vote cdeuker | Jul 15, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0803279949, Paperback)

Before anyone knew there was such a thing, Jack London gave us the natural: Young Pat Glendon has never drunk alcohol nor tasted tobacco. He loves nature, is afraid of cities, and is shy of women. And he is a perfect fighter. Summoned from the city to consider such a prospect, cynical Sam Stubener, manager of prize-fighters, is struck by the boy’s extraordinary athletic grace—and soon man and boy are off to San Francisco to take on the heavyweight world.

The Abysmal Brute is the story of natural grace pitted against worldly brutishness. A subtle social drama played out in the arena of sport—in a day long before sport moved to the center of American culture—it is also a rousing romantic tale in the tradition of one of our great storytellers. As Pat hones his skill—and his curious style—on one champion fighter after another, he contends for the heart of a lovely admirer and for the soul of professional boxing, whose rampant corruption his blows expose.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:01:59 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

"Before anyone knew there was such a thing, Jack London gave us the natural: young Pat Glendon has never drunk alcohol nor tasted tobacco. He loves nature, is afraid of cities, and is shy of women. And he is a perfect fighter. Summoned from the city to consider such a prospect, cynical Sam Stubener, manager of prizefighters, is struck by the boy's extraordinary athletic grace - and soon man and boy are off to San Francisco to take on the heavyweight world." "The Abysmal Brute is the story of natural grace pitted against worldly brutishness. A subtle social drama played out in the arena of sport - in a day long before sport moved to the center of American culture - it is also a rousing romantic tale in the tradition of one of our great storytellers. As Pat hones his skill - and his curious style - on one champion fighter after another, he contends for the heart of a lovely admirer and for the soul of professional boxing, whose rampant corruption his blows expose."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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