There’s little to like about Ritchie “Redrum” Abruzzi, the protagonist of Joseph Hirsch’s My Tired Shadow. A former pro boxer, Ritchie’s also a bully, a thief, and a shit who makes his money by doing the only thing he’s half-way good at: beating people to a bloody smear with his fists. So no, I don’t like him at all.
But damn it, I do love him. How can I not? He’s me. Or, rather, he’s the part of me who yearns for greatness but gets in his own way every time. He’s smart enough to know what he’s capable of, but not strong enough to overcome his own weaknesses. His needs. His anger. Forged in the blood and sweat and spit of the boxing ring, Ritchie’s both the gold and the dross, and that’s what makes him such an unforgettable figure in a fast-reading novel that’ll leave you gasping like a fighter who’s just taken a shot to the liver.
Set in the seedy, dirty, crime-ridden Los Angeles the limp-wristed Hollywood types glorify but never condescend to really capture, My Tired Shadow chronicles the tail end of Ritchie’s descent as a failed pugilist eking out a living as a street fighter to the upswing, when a wealthy B-movie producer picks him to star in his new straight-to-video flick Zombie Boxer.
If you didn’t know much about boxing before reading it, you’ll definitely learn enough to get your nose broken by the end of the book. Full of both physical and emotional violence, it’s a brutal, pathos-filled tale told well, with vulnerable characters who come up against the ugliness that is Ritchie’s temper, and often pay a terrible price.
An exchange with a British journalist fan who’s seen Ritchie’s fights on YouTube and wants to spend time with him sums up Ritchie’s character well:
Ritchie cut the wheel. “You don’t got to drink, but you’ve got to drink if you hang with me.”
“Because I don’t want you studying me like a bug under a microscope all night. Just get hammered with me, be my paisan for the next couple hours, then you can wake up in the morning and hammer out whatever you want on your typewriter.” Ritchie gunned it again.
That’s Ritchie: hammers and hammers and guns.
As a writer, Hirsch doesn’t let up even if you begged him to, and My Tired Shadow is over way too quickly, which is the highest praise I can give it. Reading fiction’s an escape, right? That’s what they say. But how do you escape Ritchie Abruzzi once he’s got his hooks in you?
You don’t. Once you’ve read about him, he’s always with you, like him or not.