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One Good Punch    by Rich Wallace order for
One Good Punch
by Rich Wallace
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2007 (2007)
Hardcover, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Michael Kerrigan narrates the story of his rise and fall. An eighteen-year old senior, Mike is captain of the track team, with a good shot at winning the 800 meters at the district level, and a chance for the state gold medal. Residents of the 'gritty ever-struggling city' of Scranton, Pennsylvania are hopeful that Mike will increase the city's visibility, just as a Syracuse University freshman NCAA basketball player did in years past. It's a dying city, its textile and coal mine industries vacated, and a good number of old-timers formerly worked the mines. Though the mine fires still smolder under parts of the city, the employment is gone. But some businesses continue to flourish. The population decreases, however, as young people leave after high school graduation.

Completing a practice run, Mike returns to the high school, and tries to enter through the locker room doors, but it's all locked up. According to custodian Eddie, something's going on. Periodically there is a drug sweep, but Mike thinks, 'Nobody would suspect me anyway. I'm an athlete; I've never been in trouble; I don't associate with trouble-makers.' Mike aspires to enter Penn State or another track-team college, and plans to become a writer. He works at the Scranton Observer as an editorial assistant, composing obituaries for writing experience. While working on obits, Mike's interrupted by his friend Joey's phone call. 'You suck, Joey. Why did you put it there? ... They find that stuff, I'm dead,' Mike tells his drug-runner friend, whose alcoholic, abusive parents are 'absent even when they are present'.

On the home front, Mike's university professor Dad is not a sport enthusiast so can't understand why a college with a track team is important to Mike. Mom's a poet and freelance magazine writer. About his parents, Mike muses that 'every exchange between us is awkward ... seem to think that they can be subtle and leave things unsaid but understood ... They assume I'll come to them with my problems ... Big assumption. And false.'

Mike and childhood friend Shelly are at a movie when the call comes in on his cell phone - police officer Tucker with news about the drug sweep - Mike's on the list of alleged offenders. So begins Mike's turmoil about the stash and whether he should accept the accusation, or snitch on a friend. A conversation with Joey's dad (about his boxing career) resounds in Mike's ears - 'I never recovered as an athlete, you get me. I took that one good punch, and it finished me.'

Rich Wallace injects into Mike's narration the strategy of running and winning track. Shy of one-hundred-twenty pages, One Good Punch is a quick read, with added suspense and humor here and there. The ending leaves readers suspended in mid-air, wondering whether he should or he should not have ...

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