A Boston Globe Best Book of the Year.
“A riveting novel about hardheaded men, tough women, and even tougher times in Prohibition America. It’s difficult to believe Chad Dundas’s CHAMPION OF THE WORLD is a debut novel—so fluid is it’s plot movement, so sure the narrative…slyly ambitious…one of the most wonderfully controlled displays of storytelling by a new author in recent memory. Besides the page-turning momentum and thrilling set pieces, Dundas’s novel has an almost sweet melancholy. So many of the characters are searching for redemption… When the betrayals, failures, and mishaps come, they’re surprising and at times brutal, as merciless in their own way as that greatest of culprits here, the slow slipping away of time.” — O Magazine
“With crisp, muscular prose, this historical novel illuminates a time of rapid change in America.” — Poets & Writers
“Dundas puts together a tightly woven piece of storytelling punctuated by some intriguing close-ups of wrestling when it was taken seriously. . . . [The] last [twist is] a doozy with a demon ex machina even nastier than the mobsters. Centered on the sweet-tough relationship of Pepper and his card shark wife, Moira, and enriched by a wrestling history that contrasts sharply with today’s circus, the novel has the feel of noir but is rounder and richer than a Jim Thompson outing. Dundas suggests writers known for loosely historical works, such as Doctorow and Chabon, but he features a pared-down, punchy style that goes well with his characters’ basic raw ambitions and emotions.”— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“A brilliant novel about life—and sport—at the cusp of the modern age, Champion of the World follows a down-and-out couple as they struggle to survive on their wits alone. Reminiscent of the best of early Cormac McCarthy, but with compelling female characters.”— Philipp Meyer, New York Times-bestselling author of The Son and American Rust
“Champion of the World is a debut with the masterful breadth and insight of a veteran talent’s work. The confluence of a sport and entertainment, gambling and gangsterism is illuminated on every page, as Chad Dundas burrows into the tangled roots of American wrestling. Tragic and by turns hopeful, Champion of the World is a showcase bout full of reversals, grit, and spirit.”— Smith Henderson, author of Fourth of July Creek
Finalist for the David J. Langum Sr. Prize for Historical Fiction.
Finalist for the and Reading the West Book Awards.
In this stunning historical fiction debut set in the world of wrestling in the 1920s, a husband and wife are set adrift in a place where everyone has something to hide and not even the fights can be taken at face value.
Late summer, 1921: Disgraced former lightweight champion Pepper Van Dean has spent the past two years on the carnival circuit performing the dangerous “hangman’s drop” and taking on all comers in nightly challenge bouts. But when he and his cardsharp wife, Moira, are marooned in the wilds of Oregon, Pepper accepts an offer to return to the world of wrestling as a trainer for Garfield Taft, a down-and-out African American heavyweight contender in search of a comeback and a shot at the world title.
At the training camp in rural Montana, Pepper and Moira soon realize that nothing is what it seems: not Taft, the upcoming match, or the training facility itself. With nowhere to go and no options left, Pepper and Moira must carefully navigate the world of gangsters, bootlegging, and fixed competitions, in the hope that they can carve out a viable future.
A story of second chances and a sport at the cusp of major change, Champion of the World is a wonderful historical debut from a new talent in fiction.
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