Tuesday, September 6, 2016


I didn't know anything about this book or its author when I spied the cover while perusing upcoming releases several months ago and it immediately jumped out at me. Once I cracked the cover it didn't take me long to realize I'd happened upon something special.

One-Hundred-Knuckled Fist is one of those reads that makes you want to scream about it from the rooftops immediately upon finishing. It also makes you want to contact the author to thank them. Which I did, and discovered that Dustin M. Hoffman is as much a gem as his book. Dustin was even nice enough to sit down and answer some questions in an interview that will run later this week.

Hoffman has one of the most extraordinary voices I've read in a long while. To be more accurate, he has many voices, as evidenced in the sixteen distinct stories in this debut collection. They are wonderful and weird and gross and gritty and ingenious. Some made me swear out loud in the best possible way, others simply left me silent with awe. Although the blue collar theme is carried throughout, each piece stands alone with a unique voice.

This collection is going to be a favorite of mine for 2016 and I'm now on the lookout for whatever Dustin has coming. I hope you'll pick up a copy. What follows is a version of the review that previously ran in Shelf Awareness:

"Life is full of lemon givers, and a smart man takes his fate and makes more than just complacent lemonade."

Dustin M. Hoffman's One-Hundred-Knuckled Fist is an ode to the men and women who are handed lemons on a regular basis--blue collar workers. The working class is often invisible and forgotten, folks trying to make their way despite the pressures exerted from above and at home, often under dismal circumstances. It is these pressures and circumstances Hoffman depicts so superbly over the course of sixteen stories.

Hoffman painted houses for ten years, but it is his craftsmanship with the written word that infuses these stories with atmosphere often visceral to the point of gut-knotting. From the commission salesman stressed to make sales so his manager's children can eat, to the ice cream truck driver who, despite beatings from rival thugs, keeps going to save money for his estranged children, to the hardscaping crew driven to violent conflict after a verbal sparring session gone awry, Hoffman shines a light on some dark slices of life in the trenches.

These are not easy stories. They are in turn crude, violent, outlandish, harsh and sometimes outright bizarre. But Hoffman deftly paints them with lines of beauty, determination and subtle humor that keep them from devolving into an exercise in depression. They are as varied as the trades they depict, but across the board they are engaging, bursting with authenticity, and often just plain brilliant.

STREET SENSE: Winner of the 2015 Prairie Schooner Book Prize, this nifty set of sixteen short stories takes a compelling trip through the pressure-cooker world of the blue-collar worker. Several of these stories blew my socks off. Highly recommended.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE: I could type passages most of the day and not tire of re-reading them. This was a difficult choice. Hoffman is my favorite kind of writer - one who can write a glorious run-on and also express an idea in one short sentence. I picked the first quote because it was one (the first line of the second story) that really had me feeling I was in for something special:

We backhoed a gash through the silky sod, brown like a week-old scab, red at the center. That hole in the Glavine family's front lawn was a big dig, so deep it split us into pieces, and we were never right again.

And then there was this little line, almost a throwaway, that the woodworker in me adored:

Ramon's bare torso is so thin, as if God ran him through the planer.

COVER NERD SAYS: So simple, yet so effective. Many covers that go for simplicity miss the mark and end up looking like something thrown together over a kitchen table at midnight. Not so here. I saw this cover and was so intrigued by the title and imagery I knew I had to read it. Who doesn't want to know about a one-hundred-knuckled fist? This one goes in the big win basket as far as covers are concerned. Well done.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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