Monday, October 07, 2019

Don’t Skip Out On Me by Will Vlautin

I want to talk to you this morning about a book that simply fell in my lap, loaned me by a reader friend. The book, Don’t Skip Out On Me, by Willy Valautin is not one I would have picked up on my own. For one thing it is a book about a boxer, and I don’t care for boxing. It is also one that is written in simple, almost flat prose, and I tend to favor books by accomplished word-weavers, but this short little novel gabbed me and would not let go. I finished it in the Salt Lake City airport with tears streaming down my cheeks and surrounded by passengers waiting for a New York City flight. I was not ashamed of the tears; the author had somehow so transported me that I felt as if all those around me were also finishing the book and so would understand. 

Horace Hopper is a young man half Paiute, half Irish, whose Indian father abandoned him and whose very ill mother could not really take care of him. Lucky for Horace, he spends most of his young life on a sheep ranch owned by Mr. and Mrs. Reese who love him like a son and fully intend to leave the ranch to Horace. But Horace, ashamed of his mixed heritage decides he must prove himself in the world, and he decides the way to do that is to becoming champion of the world in his weight class. He has read (many times) a self-help book that challenges the reader to build his boat one brick at a time, and to devote everything to become a champion.

Although Horace is very close to the Reeses (whom he always addresses as Mr. and Mrs. Reese), he tells them he must leave the ranch in order to pursue his dream.  

While Mr. Reese pleads with him not to leave, and Horace is well aware that Mr. Reese will not be able to maintain his twelve hundred head ranch much longer without Horace, who has been his right hand man for many years, still he feels honor-bound to make it on his own. 

Horace is convinced that Mexican boxers are the best and toughest in the world, so when he leaves the Nevada ranch and travels to Tucson, He changes his appearance and his name. He becomes Hector Hildago , and tries to learn Spanish and tries to like Mexican food (though it is too spicy for him).

Hector manages to find a trainer who will train him for a price, and he soon gets a golden gloves fight. Mr. Reese has offered to drive Horace/Hector to Arizona, but the boy says “That there were certain times when you had to do things alone.

Mrs. Reese asks her husband why Horace needs to be a boxer.
I’m just not sure, he whispered. I’ve thought about it over and over and I’m just not sure. But remember, he’s young, and a lot of young men want to prove themselves.
It turns out that Hector is an incredibly hard hitter, but not really a boxer, so from his very first fight, he takes a lot of punishment. Diego, his trainer tells him: “You hit as hard as any kid I’ve seen in a long long time. You walk into punches but man oh man do you have power.”  While he wins his early bouts, he is very badly beaten in almost every one. While the descriptions of the fights are grisly, they are well done and soon the reader becomes used to the fact that in almost every fight Hector’s nose is broken, and eventually it will just not stop bleeding. In addition, his retina is detached in one fight, and a doctor tells him he should not fight again, and that if he does, he risks losing sight in one or both eyes.

While I have concentrated so far on Horace’s life as a fighter, I think the book is really about honor. In his dealing with women, with managers, and with poor folks he simply meets on the street, Horace is utterly honorable. He gives away his money simply because he sees others that need it more. Mr. Reese has taught him that the important thing in life is to be honorable and truthful, and Horace is both almost to a fault. 

On the book cover, one critic says, “No one anywhere writes as beautifully about people whose stories stay close to the dirt. Willy Vlautin is a secular—and thus real and profoundly useful—saint.”

And yes, the simplicity, the simple elegance of Vlautin’s prose carries this story along. I intend to read all that he has written. 

When it becomes obvious that Horace will not become champion of the world, and really can’t fight anymore, he knows he can go back to the Reeses and the ranch; he knows they want him to come home, and in most ways he wants to go home.
When  he got back to his room each evening he crawled into bed paralyzed with anxiety and shame. Why did he have to tell Mr. Reese everything? Why couldn’t he have just kept to himself that he wanted to be Mexican and wanted to be a world champion boxer? The nights crawled by. Hours seemed like days. He would get lost in thoughts of Mr. and Mrs. Reese, the ranch, and the horses and dogs, and when he did his stomach would give out and he would feel like he was falling. He wanted more than anything to go back to them, to the comfort of them, but always something inside forded him not to.
Will Hector Delgado revert to Horace Hopper, and will Mr. Reese finally find him and take him home. The answer to this question will require you to read the book. It is a wonderful little book and you will be glad you read it. I feel I really learned something about honor and truthfulness. 

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