Monday, June 25, 2012

The Game by Jack London

The Call of the Ring
The Game is a boxing novel by Jack London, first published in 1905. Though there’s little that’s groundbreaking or profoundly deep about this brief narrative, it’s an entertaining piece of genre fiction written with a literary proficiency that lifts it above the level of mere pulp fiction.

Joe Fleming and his girl Genevieve are an innocent young couple who, after a virginal courtship, have decided to tie the knot. The two naive young lovers share a pure and simple adoration of one another, but Genevieve does have serious reservations about the relationship, due to the obtrusive presence of Joe’s beloved mistress. Joe’s mistress, it must be stated, is not another woman, but the sport of boxing. Genevieve cannot understand Joe’s desire to participate in such a brutal and primitive activity. For the sake of their marriage, Joe agrees to end his boxing career with one last bout. Wishing to impress his bride, Joe invites her to witness the match. Thus, on the eve of their nuptials, Genevieve masquerades as a man and sneaks into the arena to watch Joe’s final fight.

Between the lines of this straightforward sports novel, frequent readers of London will recognize his obsession with evolution. Despite Joe’s usually mild mannered persona, once inside the ring he is the living embodiment of Darwin’s “survival of the fittest”. Although Genevieve abhors the brutality of boxing, she can’t help but be aroused by the primitive strength and savagery of her man in action. Underneath their civilized romance bubbles the primordial stirrings of their animal natures. By making Genevieve a spectator at the event, London turns the boxing ring into a representation of Darwinian sexual selection.

London truly loved the sport of boxing, and that love is apparent throughout this story. The epic match between Fleming and Ponta is no mere slugfest, but a celebration of the pugilistic art. To the 21st-century reader, who’s probably seen fifty boxing movies over the past few decades, the plot and characters of this hundred-year-old book may seem a bit familiar, but London handles the material so skillfully that the entertainment value generated by The Game is well worth the brief hour spent reading it.

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