A harrowing and spellbinding story about family, the complications of mixed-race relationships, misplaced loyalties, and the price athletes pay to entertain—from the critically acclaimed author of Three-Fifths
Xavier “Scarecrow” Wallace, a mixed-race MMA fighter on the wrong side of thirty, is facing the fight of his life. Xavier can no longer deny he is losing his battle with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), or pugilistic dementia. Through the fog of memory loss, migraines, and paranoia, Xavier does his best to stay in shape by training at the Philadelphia gym owned by his cousin-cum-manager, Shot, a retired champion boxer to whom Xavier owes an unpayable debt.
Xavier makes ends meet while he waits for the call that will reinstate him after a year-long suspension by teaching youth classes at Shot’s gym and by living rent-free in the house of his white father, whom Xavier was forced to commit to a nursing home. The progress of Sam Wallace’s end-stage Alzheimer’s has revealed his latent racism, and Xavier finally gains insight into why his Black mother left the family years ago.
Then Xavier is offered a chance at redemption: a last-minute high-profile comeback fight. If he can get himself back in the game, he’ll be able to clear his name and begin to pay off Shot. With his memory in shreds and his life crumbling around him, can Xavier hold on to the focus he needs to survive? John Vercher, author of the Edgar and Anthony Award–nominated Three-Fifths, offers a gripping, psychologically astute, and explosive tour de force about race, entertainment, and healthcare in America, and about one man’s battle against himself.
Vercher (Three-Fifths) strides back in the ring with the explosive story of a troubled Philadelphia MMA fighter whose career has stalled. When 30-something Xavier Wallace gets the call to participate in a contender fight after being sidelined for months following a bust for accidentally taking a banned substance, he jumps at the chance. Xavier's pride is on the line, as a brain injury has been robbing him of memory and cognitive function. His career is managed by champion boxer Shot, his glass-eyed cousin who owns the gym where he trains and to whom Xavier owes a huge debt. Xavier's family, meanwhile, was fractured after his Black mother, Evelyn, left him and his white father, Sam, when Xavier was a child. The truth about why Evelyn left is finally revealed by a racist Sam, who suffers from dementia. The crux of the story lies in Xavier's seemingly final chance to show his mettle despite a cacophony of personal issues, physical challenges, and an emotionally draining reunion with Evelyn. Adding complexity and depth is Xavier's internal monologue ("You were born for violence, my guy. We all are. Just some of us are more attuned to it than others"), which alternates between motivation, reflection, and self-sabotage. Vercher expertly captures the brashness and discipline of combat sports as well as the harsh realities of the fighting life, delivering all of it in a swiftly paced triumph complete with a surprising one-two punch of a conclusion. This is simply brilliant.