Cover image for Sunday you learn how to box : a novel
Sunday you learn how to box : a novel
Wright, Bil.
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Publication Information:
New York : Simon & Schuster, [2000]

Physical Description:
220 pages ; 21 cm
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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Fourteen-year-old Louis Bowman is in a boxing ring -- a housing project circa 1968 -- fighting "just to get to the end of the round." Sharing the ring is his mother, Jeanette Stamps, a ferociously stubborn woman battling for her own dreams to be realized; his stepfather, Ben Stamps, the would-be savior, who becomes the sparring partner to them both; and the enigmatic Ray Anthony Robinson, the neighborhood "hoodlum," in purple polyester pants, who sets young Louis's heart spinning with the first stirrings of sexual longing. Bil Wright deftly evokes an unrelenting world with quirky humor and clear-eyed unsentimentality.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Wright's first novel is a poignant coming-of-age story about a black youth discovering his homosexual longings. Fourteen-year-old Louis Bowman lives in a housing project in Connecticut, coping with neighborhood ruffians, budding homosexuality, and an ambitious mother, Jeanette Stamps, who places herself above the other project dwellers--and is resented for it. Stamps longs for a middle-class life with a home of her own and a son who is like other boys his age. Louis' struggles with his sexual awakening come in the midst of his mother's deteriorating marriage to his stepfather, Ben Stamps. Ben ignores the social and other strivings of his disappointed wife but finally consents when she insists he give Louis boxing lessons in an effort to make a man of the boy. A local tough, Ray Anthony Robinson--cool and macho, feared and admired--is the confusing object of Louis' affections. Louis and Ray begin an aloof friendship that Louis would like to see blossom into something more. Wright has written an unsentimental portrait of a vulnerable young black man. --Vanessa Bush

Publisher's Weekly Review

Growing up in urban Connecticut's impoverished Stratfield Projects in the late '60s is hard enough for Louis Bowman, the 14-year-old narrator of this excellent, plainspoken debut novel: he's got a misguided mother who is by turns violent and vulnerable; a stepfather who both hates and ignores him; and an array of neighborhood bullies to dodge. To make matters more difficult, Louis is gay, a realization he comes to slowly as he becomes enthralled with Ray Anthony Robinson, an older boy his neighbors consider an "out-and-out-hoodlum." Enigmatic Ray becomes Louis's unofficial protector, though the two teens never speak of their bond. Louis's home life, meanwhile, becomes increasingly brutal and confusing. His mother, Jeannette, engineers Sunday boxing matches between Louis and his stepfather, Ben, hoping Louis will learn to protect himself from the other boys in the projects. Ben, however, uses the matches as an opportunity to knock Louis around the apartment. Jeannette dreams of owning a house outside the projects, but drinks a lot of scotch and often loses herself in the memory of her one brush with fame, years before, when she designed a dress for Billie Holiday. Louis is a likable na‹f, a boy for whom a simple nod indicates a world of acceptance. He is keenly aware of how racial discrimination affects him; when his teacher insists on calling him Louie, he notes: "Mom says white people always do that with a black person's name, change it to something that sounds like nobody could take the person seriously." Wright's prose is both straightforward and subtle, and his ear for dialogue is first-rate. Louis is a winning character, an adolescent coping gracefully with his bitter lot, whose emotional strength and resilience ensure his survival into adulthood. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

YA-This deeply felt coming-of-age novel reads like the best of memoirs. It's 1968 in the projects, and 14-year-old Louis Bowman has committed the unforgivable social crime of sissyhood, preferring mental activities to physical ones. The beatings he takes on the streets prompt his mother to force him into Sunday boxing lessons from his disgusted stepfather, Ben. To Louis and to readers, these feel more like sanctified opportunities for Ben to take out his violent frustrations on the boy. Louis's hardworking mother, though motivated by concern for his safety, is desperate to please Ben, hoping he'll be the family's ticket out of the projects. Meanwhile, Louis's grades drop and his school counselor diagnoses him with depression. Keeping the boy afloat is his budding crush on Ray Anthony Robinson, an eccentric "hoodlum" as isolated as Louis. The crush (more romantic than sexual at this point in his life) helps Louis to hold on, offering him moments of beauty and awe to counterbalance the darker circumstances of his life. His homosexuality, rather than being a cause for self-torment, recalls him to the wonder and warmth one can find even in the midst of the bleakest conditions. Wright has a pitch-perfect ear for dialogue and a genuine gift for capturing the intricacies and indeterminacies of family and community life. Both ensure that Louis Bowman will live with teen readers long after they close the book.-Emily Lloyd, Fairfax County Public Library, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter Two Ben had been in the bathroom with the door open for at least an hour, shaving and whistling in his suit pants and stocking cap. I was downstairs in the living room reading the Sunday comics, but I could look upstairs from my chair and see him. He always left the door open when he was shaving. And he always whistled when he shaved. He'd go through one song pretty simply, then start at the beginning again, doing a jazz version of the same thing, except this time he'd add a trill like opera singers do with their voices. So it was kind of a jazz-opera whistle. Mom was in the kitchen banging the pots around and slamming the oven door. I couldn't tell if she was mad because she thought I should be upstairs doing homework instead of reading the comics, or if she was furious at Ben for something I hadn't heard about yet. He was really showing off now, patting aftershave on his cheeks in time to the whistling. Lorelle stood at the foot of the stairs staring up at him, swaying, hypnotized by the same trills I rolled, then crossed my eyes at in disgust. Ben whistled himself into the bedroom, put on a shirt, tie, his suit jacket and the double-breasted black coat he kept in a fancy plastic cleaners bag and almost never wore. The whole time he was shaving, dressing, patting and whistling, Mom threw silverware onto the table, piece by piece, each fork and knife harder and louder than the last. Finally Ben came downstairs, jingling his car keys as another layer of accompaniment. Mom flew out of the kitchen. She had on a dark green dress dusted with white fingerprints all over it. She looked as though she'd dipped her hands in flour, then slapped herself from head to toe. There was flour in her hair, on her forehead, up and down her stockings. With her chest leading and her arms beating the air, she was a colored woman windmill spinning across the floor, spitting flour. "Where are you going, mister?" she yelled into the space between his shoulders. Ben kept walking toward the front door. He was doing a long, spiderleg stroll at an easy, good-time pace with Mom screaming at his back. He answered her, looking straight ahead like she was actually in front of him instead of behind. "I am going to a Christmas party." He sounded cheerful, cocky, like he was about to add, "And I'm leaving your screaming butt here." Mom called him a Christmas party liar and asked him why the hell he didn't have the guts to say he was on his way to deliver his Christmas bonus to his woman. I always tried to picture this woman Mom was so sure Ben was going to. But there were never any real clues that I could put together. He stopped at the door and looked over his shoulder to face her. He smiled as if he was looking at somebody who was going to disappear in a few minutes so it didn't matter what she said to him. "Cause you already know that, don't you?" He turned around, opened the door and kept walking. "Yeah, but what you don't know, mister bastard, is that I'm coming with you." Mom ran past me to the hall closet. I jumped out of the chair as though she'd yanked a rope tied around my neck. When she whizzed back by me again in the grizzly, following Ben out to the parking lot, I turned to Lorelle. With a look of terror in her eyes, she asked, "Louis, are you leaving me?" "You stay here. I'll be right back." I ran after Mom. She was running now to keep up with Ben, even though he still didn't look like he was in much of a hurry. The grizzly looked like it was covered in powdered snow. Mom kept slipping on the ice yelling, "Christmas party, huh? Well, let's go!" But she didn't go down. I did. By the time I got up, Ben had made it out to the parking lot, right up to the car. I thought, this will be the fight, because I knew he wouldn't let her get in with him. When he opened the door on his side, though, Mom pushed right past him. Ben stopped for a second -- she'd surprised him -- but then he got in too, closed the door and leaned over to start the engine. I ran around to her side and pounded on the window. "Get out of the car, Mom. Get out." She leaned over and opened her door. "Go back, Louis! Go back and stay with Lorelle!" Instead, I got in the car, she moved to the middle and started beating on Ben. "Christmas party, huh!? Christmas party!?" with a punch for each one. Ben blocked her, grinning. "That's right. That's where I'm going." He grabbed both her arms so that all she could do was throw her whole body at him, kicking. I tried to pull her away, but there was too much of the grizzly for me to get a hold on her. Ben wouldn't let go. I reached past her and hit him myself. Ben's grin disappeared. He held Mom off with one arm, and punched me square in the mouth, his high school ring knocking against my teeth. Now Mom went crazier, pulling herself free from him. Her fist thudded into his chest, his face, his chest again. Ben's eyes popped wide like a jolt of electricity had gone through his body. His arms flopped to his sides. Mom stopped screaming. She looked at Ben, confused, as if in the six years they'd been married, she never remembered seeing him look exactly the way he did at that moment. We both watched him, waiting for him to move. It looked as if he was concentrating on how to steer the car out of the space it was in; like Mom and me had disappeared just that quickly and it was time for him to get on with driving to wherever he was going. Then he made this noise as if he was pushing all the air out of his lungs. I watched his mouth. The color in his lips was fading, leaking out with the air. Till there wasn't any sound or color or air at all. Mom whispered, "Je-sus." I think she knew then that he'd died, but I didn't. I never thought about him dying. I didn't think Ben could die. When Isabelle Jackson ran up to the window, I realized how many people were standing around the car. Right away, I began to dream I could drive through all of them. Ben's green Pontiac with the bird shit splattered across the windows was lifting off at the end of the parking lot and ascending high above the projects, sailing out over the city. I thought the cop might arrest me for not answering his questions. I knew I wasn't too young. Other kids had been hauled away in handcuffs. For stealing, mostly. But nobody, not even the worst ones, had killed anybody. I stood there waiting in the cold between the cop and Miss Odessa. She was making sure everybody would think she was an important part of what was going on. It probably looked to some people like she was helping the cop by not letting me get away, or to somebody else like maybe she was protecting me from him because my mother wasn't there. Mom came back carrying Lorelle as the ambulance was leaving the parking lot with Ben. Lorelle looked more confused than she had when I'd left her. Mom never carried her anywhere. Lorelle was tall for her age and too heavy to be lifted, except in emergencies. Nevertheless, Mom looked pretty calm, if a little winded, until she saw that Ben wasn't completely gone. "Oh God, Ben! Oh God!" she called out to the back of the ambulance. Miss Odessa ran over to her, but the sound Mom made then scared Miss Odessa so badly, she jumped back like she'd run over to a howling, killer dog. Mom continued half-calling, half-barking to Ben in the ambulance, although it was now completely out of view. The cops, the neighbors, no one took their eyes off her. Lorelle pulled away and stared, looking more curious than afraid. I studied Mom's eyes, the way she clamped her bottom teeth against her upper lip, how she clenched her fists around Lorelle's thighs so that the skin above and beneath her wedding ring looked pale and swollen around it. Nobody ever wanted to know what Mom would do next more than I did. But with Mom, I could never even begin to guess. Copyright © 2000 by Bil Wright Excerpted from Sunday You Learn How to Box: A Novel by Bill Wright All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.