Brutality and Truth
MMA fighter Xavier “Scarecrow” Wallace struggles to survive the pain and memory loss.
“Worse than the patchwork remnants of stitches in his forehead; worse than the accumulation of crackling scar tissue above his jagged orbital bones; worse, even, than the seemingly interminable, intensifying headaches. Worse than all that was the forgetting. Patches of time gone, sketches of memories swiped from a chalkboard where only the faintest outline of the words and images remained…. The ravages of age, he told himself, nothing more. Some days he almost believed that.”
But he knows it’s more than that. His personality has even changed.
And there’s Damien—the nasty little voice inside his head that fills him with negative thoughts and rage.
Xavier also deals with other life trauma. His mother left the family when he was a boy. He was suspended from fighting for a year because he used steroids (at the request of his cousin and coach, Shot). His father now suffers from Alzheimer’s and lives in a nursing home.
Xavier has convinced himself that if he can just hold out until his suspension is over, he can get back in the ring and reclaim his former glory. But dealing with his current life is painfully challenging.
His father, Sam, suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and is now verbally abusive to the nursing home staff. Xavier always assumed that his mother left them because of something Xavier did. But Sam’s outbursts reveal the real reason his Black mother left his white father, and Xavier isn’t sure how to deal with it.
Meanwhile, when Xavier’s rage boils over in the gym and he ravages Shot’s dominant fighter in the ring, Xavier has no choice but to take the fighter’s place in a match scheduled for just a few days in the future. But what Shot asks him to do is not only illegal, but if not successful, could be deadly as well.
The Vibe and the Art of Storytelling:
Vercher takes readers inside the scrambled brain of a man who believes his only skill, and his only purpose in life, is cage-fighting. The story of both the physical and emotional trauma suffered by Xavier is heart wrenching, especially when he must simultaneously deal with his father’s Alzheimer’s. Xavier’s distress is magnified when he realizes his father is a racist.
As in his debut novel, Three-Fifths, Vercher explores issues of identity and integrity. Xavier is half white and half Black, and must deal with racism thrown at him from his next-door MAGA neighbor, society in general, and even his own father. Add to that the impending demise of his fighting career, and Xavier spirals downward into a maelstrom of rage and depression.
Vercher also jabs a stiletto into our hearts with the scenes involving Xavier’s rescue dog, Loki, and how traumatic brain injury can lead to the danger of neglect.
Vercher lives in Philadelphia with his family and loves combat sports—he’s a self-proclaimed boxing fan. His essays on race, identity, and parenting are featured on NPR. His first novel, Three-Fifths, was nominated for the Edgar, Anthony, and Strand Magazine Critics’ Awards for Best First Novel.
What I Like Best:
The brutality of the story is hard to read, but that’s exactly what draws me to this novel. Man’s lack of control over mind and body can dismantle even the most aggressive athletes. We can try our best to live a safe and prosperous life, but sometimes things happen over which we have no control.
Vercher once again challenges readers to consider issues of race, identity, and man’s sometimes unsuccessful struggle to control his life.