Review of Donnybrook by Frank Bill

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
May 5th, 2013

The cover of this book grabbed me: a fist smashing a face and I knew I had to read it. The library came through. It was on the new release shelf. I read it in two days. It would have gone quicker if real life hadn’t interfered.

Ok, the Donnybrook of the title refers to this backwoods, bare knuckle fight that takes place over a three day weekend on a rural farm in southern Indiana. Twenty men enter a ring and fight till only one man is left standing. This happens six times. The spectators bet, drink, do drugs and eat BBQ. The final fight consists of the winners of the six previous fights. They fight until one man is left standing for $100,000. It costs a fighter $1000 to enter. Once you enter, fighter or spectator, you are there for the entire weekend; you can’t leave. The whole thing is run by a crime lord, the farm is a fortress.

Among the fighters is Jarhead. He has two kids, a drug addicted wife, and a heart of gold. He wants to see his family taken care of. Then you have Ned. Ned has ripped off every meth dealer in a 50 mile radius. He goes to fight and to sell a load of meth he stole from Chainsaw Angus, a legendary brawler who was ripped off by his sister Liz, a dreadlocked whore. Liz and Ned left Angus for dead. Angus wasn’t dead, just very pissed off. Fu is a debt collector after money owed to his boss by somebody Liz and Angus murdered. These are but a few of the grotesques that populate this story.

Now, I flat out loved this book. It reminded me of the films True Romance and Smoking Aces with not just the violence but the large casts of characters that careen back and forth into each other’s paths, shedding large amounts of blood along the way. The dialogue is spot on. The descriptions of violence are visceral to say the least. No one here gets out alive. The Deliverance moments abound. All the characters are unique as well. The story also contains a large amount of heart, mostly in the form of Jarhead who is the light in miles of darkness. Chainsaw Angus is worthy of the silver screen, as is the whole book.

There was not a single thing I disliked about this book. I need to own a copy because it just begs to be re-read. Frank Bill has just become one of my favorite writers. Tonight, I am going to the library to check out his first book, a short story collection called Crimes in Southern Indiana.
I implore you dear reader to check this book out.