Both Members of the Club
Both Members of the Club, Adam Berlin’s third novel, has just been released. Published by Texas Review Press and winner of the 2012 Clay Reynolds Novella Prize, Both Members of the Club, which shares a title with the iconic George Bellows’ painting of the same name, is his long awaited boxing novel.
Berlin is the most writerly of boxing journalists. In an age when anyone with an iPhone and a thought rattling around their head believes they are a writer, Berlin reminds us that writing is an art. It’s a serious endeavor meant to be taken seriously, and no place for ramblings disguised as prose, however facile but formless those ramblings may be.
To call Both Members of the Club a boxing novel is, however, something of a misnomer. Although one of the three main characters, Billy Carlyle, is a boxer on the downside of his career, the novel isn’t so much Billy’s story as the story of Billy and his two closest friends. One is an aspiring actor named Gabriel, our narrator. The other is a female artist named Sam. The three of them are in New York City, by circumstance rather than by design, but it’s where they’ve elected to pursue their fate; it’s also where fate has elected to pursue them.
New York is less a backdrop than a character in the book. Berlin, a longtime resident of the Big Apple, captures the pizzazz and paucity, the marvel and malfunction as only a gifted writer can. A third of the book takes place in Paris, which Berlin brings to life with his eloquent, Spartan style. But Both Members of the Club, while anchored by boxing, is less about Manhattan and Paris than about friendship and loyalty, hopes and aspirations, dreams and nightmares, with a sprinkling of delusion thrown in for good measure.
Berlin’s connection to boxing is profound. The fight scenes in Both Members of the Club, in particular, are rendered with such deftness that it feels less like reading a book than visiting the cinema. He understands that boxing is the ultimate proving ground for masculinity, with all that that means and does not. He also understands that outside the arena, with its screaming fans and testosterone fueled feats of derring-do, awaits the boulevard of broken dreams. But Berlin doesn’t overdo it. He is a master of restraint. His writing is more elegant than muscular; but however polished, it has an edge that suits both the material and the author himself.
Novels, like novelists, are a dying breed. The number of people who read books instead of tweets has never been smaller. While we may be experiencing the twilight of literacy, there will always be an audience for fine writing, an audience appreciative of the work that goes into creating something meaningful. They may be a minority. They may be dinosaurs in a world of butterflies. But storytelling, a seemingly lost art, remains central to the human condition, and can be found if one searches, can be found if one not only looks, but sees.
Teddy Atlas observed that Both Members of the Club asks, “What do we fight for?” That is true. But Both Members of the Club asks another question, and one with no easy answers: Which fight is next?