If Ernest Hemingway and Chuck Palahniuk conceived a child, their baby's name would be Mark Bojanowsky. The child's first words would be The Dog Fighter, and each word would, predictably, teeter the line between masculine brusqueness and frustrating oversimplification; spectacular violence and overblown sensationalism; stylistic concentration and masturbatory experimentation.
In The Dog Fighter, Bojanowsky's unnamed narrator spends his childhood in 1930s Veracruz, listening to his grandfather tell him violent, evocative stories about adventurous men. His parents discourage these graphic tales, but to no avail: the boy emerges strong, silent, and cruelly sadistic. He commits random acts of violence against neighborhood animals. As a teenager he leaves Veracruz and travels, becoming a laborer. He falls in love with his boss's wife and kills the husband. Then he travels to the Baja Peninsula, seeking work at a new tourist hotel. He becomes involved in the shadier side of this business, develops a fascination for poetry, and falls in love. Oh yeah, he also fights dogs with a metal claw strapped to his arm.
This is Bojanowsky's debut novel, and for all the advertising that surrounds it, I find it an unremarkable work. You know a publishing house like HarperCollins won't introduce a 27-year-old contemporary fiction author without drowning the whole ordeal in a lot of white noise about his "wildly original new voice," and "harrowing lyricism." All of this may be credible, but it's a mistake to think that The Dog Fighter is any more important than Bridget Jones's Diary or the Redwall series. If I reviewed this book in terms of potential escapism or thematic continuity, I'd say: "Hey! Everything's intact!" It's just another book of fiction among the millions you could choose from, with a keen marketing strategy. It's a little haunting, but no more than a good romance novel. In the end it all depends on what genre of story you want to read. If you want a story about obscure violent situations in 1940s Mexico, penned by a stupefied, Hemingway-esque narrator, why not contribute to Marc Bojanowsky's royalties so he can write another book?
You could read anything, but you have to read something: why not The Dog Fighter? EVAN JAMES