Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Book Review: "The Fallow Season of Hugo Hunter" by Craig Lancaster

"That's the thing about fame. If you have it, it's almost never on your terms. You become what other people—people who don't really know you—imagine you to be."

Hugo Hunter was a young boxer from Billings, Montana, who had exceptional talent. He took the world by surprise when at 17, he won the silver medal at the 1992 Summer Olympics. (He was actually cheated of the gold medal, but that's another story.) Yet given his skills, he was never really able to achieve the success his potential hinted at. Much of his adult life was spent moving from scheme to scheme, addiction to addiction, building up people's hopes and then disappointing them. But he could never shake his love of boxing.

Mark Westerly, a newspaper reporter in Billings, had a ringside seat for Hugo's career, and it changed his life as well. He was part of the celebration of Hugo's victories, and was witness to the crushing disappointments. Yet being a part of the adventure that was Hugo made him privy to some secrets and incidents he could never disclose, and as Mark dealt with challenges in his own life, the pressure often became too much.

"I don't know when I let him in, when I relaxed the pose as objective journalist long enough to let myself love him, but whenever it was, it couldn't be undone, even if I'd wanted that."

Years later, desperate for money and a taste of the glory that passed him by, Hugo has embarked on a series of local fights, in the hope he might make a comeback. But he finds that his life—and his abilities—have gotten far more out of hand than he realizes, but in order to avoid hurting himself and those he cares about yet again, he has to change the path his life is following. But how to do that when all he knows is boxing?

When Mark finds himself with another chance at happiness, he must make the decision whether to try and save Hugo from his demons one last time, and let out the secrets he's been holding in for so long. He also has to realize that everyone is entitled to a second chance, but they must work for it on their own.

Craig Lancaster's The Fallow Season of Hugo Hunter feels like a good old-fashioned novel, and I don't mean that in a negative way. I really enjoyed this book and found Lancaster's storytelling tremendously straightforward, without gimmicks or unnecessary drama or affectations. Hugo, Mark, and the supporting characters are really well-drawn and immensely likeable, even when they're doing things you don't agree with. And as with many books I enjoy, I find myself wondering what became of the characters after the book ended.

This is a book about boxing, yes, but it's more a book about friendship, regaining your faith in yourself, and how to unburden yourself from being a witness to another's successes and failures. I'm so glad I stumbled onto this one, and definitely recommend it.

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