FORGOTTEN BOOKS: THE SWEET SUMMER!
To celebrate my 100th Forgotten Books post, I wanted to feature a very special book – my favorite boxing novel, The Sweet Summer.
Author William Kelley’s main claim to fame is the screenplay for the Harrison Ford movie, Witness. He’s also done a lot of television scripts and other novels, but for me, The Sweet Summer is his highest achievement.
It’s the summer of 1947, and young Irish pugilist Cully Madden finds himself as the only grain of salt in the otherwise all-black Air Force boxing team. Through Cully, and the deep friendships he forms with his teammates, we see the barbaric world of racism in a new way. There is cruel honesty on the pages along with the viciousness of fights both in an out of the ring, so much so, I never questioned the truth of the scenes as they are presented.
In the late ‘40s deep South settings of flop houses, make-shift boxing rings, and swamp shanties, you can feel the grit and suffer in the humidity as the team fights with a desperation to maintain their honor and dignity in a world refusing to acknowledge them.
THE SWEET SUMMER
The Sweet Summer is a powerful story of moral awakening told through the voice of Cully Madden, a young airman and aspiring priest who joins the all-black Air Force boxing team in the summer of 1947. During the team’s tour of the South, Cully’s friendships with his teammates deepen as they face their opponents in dilapidated vaudeville halls, on the rusting hulks of barges moored at backwater Mississippi River towns, and in remote Louisiana canebrakes.
As the prey of redneck mobs and despicable small-town sheriffs, the teammates often find themselves continuing their battles outside the ring – bloody lessons that teach Cully to understand the source of the ferocity that enables his friends to survive in the brutal world he couldn’t imagine before.
The Sweet Summer is a moving account of deep friendship between a white man and his black peers in a time and place where such relationships were rare and held in contempt. It portrays with brutal honesty the humiliations suffered by African Americans in the Jim Crow South.
This is a novel filled with courage, friendship, honor, compassion and heroism. It is a special book to me as it speaks loudly on so many levels. Upon finishing it again recently, I felt I’d lived through the era and was bloodied and bruised from fighting through every punch.
Great stuff. Possibly even important stuff.