Reviewed by: BigAl
Genre: Sports Fiction/Literary Fiction
Approximate word count: 305-310,000 words
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“Mark Jacobs is an author, magazine columnist, and martial arts instructor whose written work has appeared in numerous publications including Sports Illustrated and The Ring Magazine. The author of the acclaimed instructional text, The Principles of Unarmed Combat, he currently serves as a contributing editor for Black Belt Magazine. He has one other book, a poker-player detective novel, Pascal's Wager.
For more visit his website.
“A Bittersweet Science provides an epic look into the world of big-time boxing from the perspectives of the many individuals who make up this frequently brutal yet entrancing sport. From the exploited fighters who bleed for pay, to the scurrilous promoters and slick young television executives who make the backroom deals, to the sardonic journalists who are there to record it all with a jaded eye, it's an insight into a world most will never know. More than just a boxing story, A Bittersweet Science examines the profound question of whether the ends really do justify the means in a world without objective morality.
It's the story of "Action" Jackson Hayes, the unbeatable but volatile heavyweight champion who's suspended from the sport because he's just too violent and then decides to make his vacation permanent when he discovers Jesus. Enter promoter extraordinaire Abraham "Abby" Lincoln. A former 1960s student protest leader turned used car entrepreneur turned boxing mega promoter known for his tie-dye tuxedos and love of Machiavelli, Lincoln needs to appease his money men by bringing some excitement back to a moribund heavyweight division. With the aid of charismatic televangelist Antonio Harper, he lures Hayes out of retirement for a multi-million dollar showdown with young Tommy O'Callahan. That O'Callahan can't fight very well is negated by the fact he just happens to be a white heavyweight... and his family has a bitter personal history with Hayes.
Caught in the intersection of it all is brilliant but discontent sports columnist David Goldman, whose disillusion with the amorality of the people he's tasked to write about is mirrored by his own marital woes. But when events take an unexpected turn, Goldman finds himself thrust into the middle of a legal firestorm as both Lincoln and Hayes wind up in court facing off against ambitious prosecutor Michael Bratkowski. Bratkowski is determined to make a name for himself with this year's version of the trial of the century. The real fight has just begun but Abby Lincoln is determined to score a knockout over all his foes, even if it means sacrificing his favorite son, Jackson Hayes.”
You’ll notice the word epic in the first line of the blurb for A Bittersweet Science. What does that mean? Long (just over 300,000 words), for one thing. That fits the dictionary definition that says, “Surpassing the usual or ordinary, particularly in scope or size.” Another definition that at first glance might fit, “Any work of literature, film, etc., having heroic deeds for its subject matter,” probably doesn’t. Heroic deeds are few, if any, unless you consider allowing yourself to get beat up (or being the one doing the beating) as heroic.
At first glance, the target reader would seem to be a boxing fan. Yet, I wonder with Jacob’s portrayal of the seamy underbelly of the business of boxing. With sleazy promoters using (often abusing and taking advantage of) fighters and the most competition occurring during divvying up the spoils, a true boxing aficionado might not take to the story, although I suspect many of them won’t be shocked at how the boxing world is depicted. However, the non-boxing fan should enjoy the story for the underlying questions it raises. As it turns out, the actual boxing takes up very little of the story, with the negotiations and behind-the-scenes machinations taking much more time than an occasional twelve-round bout.
A side-effect of this book being “epic” is that it will appeal to a certain kind of reader and won’t to another. Those who like a fast-moving story that builds to a quick conclusion will find the multiple, intertwined story threads, some of which take the full book to come to fruition, too darn slow. If you prefer detailed descriptions and a more complex story that builds more slowly to completion, this should appeal.
A small number of typos and other proofing errors. The most prevalent was homonym errors.
Rating: **** Four stars