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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Beauty and Mike Tyson

Facing Tyson: Fifteen Fighters, Fifteen Stories (book [2006] and audiobook [2010]), by my dear friend Ted Kluck, is a book that is not a Christian book but is written by a Christian who also writes Christian books.  It's also a boxing book by a boxing fan who questions whether to remain a boxing fan while writing this book that every boxing fan will love but which someone who doesn't like or know boxing (like me and my wife) can't put down.  Got it?  Good.  Get it.

Based on the model of Facing Ali: Fifteen Fighters, Fifteen Stories, by Stephen Brunt, Kluck interviews fifteen of heavyweight champion Mike Tyson's opponents in the ring (or in two cases those close to them) to get a fresh perspective on Tyson through those who fought him.  After an opening chapter on the author's brush with Tyson himself, each chapter details Kluck's encounter with one of the other boxers.  The result is a subtle, complex, and profoundly humanizing portrait of Tyson and all of those Kluck interviews as well as the boxing world itself.

Kluck writes in the first person so that we not only see Tyson from his own point of view and Tyson from his opponents' points of view but also Tyson and his opponents from Kluck's point of view.  He artfully weaves himself and his Everyman journey through the boxing world into the book while being careful to keep the book about the fighters and not about himself.  The author's own story—which becomes our story as we follow him—is possibly the most interesting of them all.

I encourage you to read or listen to this book in defiance of why you might think you wouldn't like it.  It's not a Christian book.  The interviewees use highly vulgar language at times, and Kluck records it verbatim.  But the author's faith gleams through and is reflected back again (or starkly contrasted) in unexpected ways—like in the born-again testimony of Marvis Frazier, the gospel of success of Evander Holyfield, and a prayer for Iron Mike in the back seat of a taxi cab.  It is a good book for a Christian to read because it's about the humanity that God made, that fell, and that he is redeeming.  We see it in the book among the famous, the once-famous, and the nobodies and never-weres, in people ekeing out a life, stealing their life, or living the high life.  We see in Mike Tyson himself a sort of latter-day Preacher from Ecclesiastes, a man who has seen it all and had it all and lost it all and wonders out loud with shocking honesty and depth what it all means.  And we see, over and over again, grace and beauty that transcends all the stories in paradox with the violence and sometimes sleaze of the sport itself, something from beyond that backlights and ennobles all the oversized characters in this book, the author as he writes, and you and me as we read.  There's something about Facing Tyson that makes it more than a boxing book without it ceasing to be a boxing book.  You'll just have to read or listen to it yourself to understand what I mean.

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