Wednesday, April 29, 2015

COCKFIGHTER by Charles Willeford


The interesting thing about this book is that it is essentially the classic underdog sports story that is popular in a lot of movies, television, and books, but instead of focusing on a football player or boxer, it's about a man who trains chickens to fight to the death. 

It's told from the point of view of Frank Mansfield, a respected cockfighter who, at the books opening, loses all of his money, his car, his mobile home, and his ace cock Sandspur after being defeated by his rival. Now, with only a few bucks in his pocket and the clothes on his back, we witness him doggedly work his way to the top, in his pursuit of the Cockfighter of the Year Award.

Frank isn't the best of guys and is, for all intents and purposes, an asshole. But you feel his complete passion and dedication to not only the game, but the art and craft of conditioning a fighting cock. It's actually pretty inspiring, but it's also pretty sad as he shuns and alienates many people who love him in his pursuit of his dream. We even find him years into a vow of silence he's taken until he wins the award. This level of passion is what drives the novel. It's hard to see a guy so dedicated and not root for him to win. Also, the level of detail in depicting the world of Southern cockfighting is staggering. You get the feeling that Willeford definitely has some first-hand knowledge!

The story itself is actually pretty traditional and I could even see some of the cock-training marathons in my head as I read and hear the Rocky movie montage music playing in the background! Maybe that was a little disappointing, how traditional the plot is. There's not really much else to the story, which surprised me after reading both Pick-up and Wild Wives from Willeford, both of which felt anything but traditional. And obviously there's a lot of violence involving chickens, which is really hard to take at times, so if you are really sensitive about that stuff, you shouldn't read this one.

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