Fred Clayton
by Frank Accettura
Archway Publishing

"Let me put it this way: have you ever tried kissing a value?"

Fred counts on his dad when his inability to keep a job and keep his weight in check causes conflict with his mom and sister. When Fred’s dad dies and his sister (his primary income buffer) moves away, Fred and his mom are on their own until Fred’s wrestling champion girlfriend, Mary Ellen, arrives, giving Fred the boost he needs to defend himself, literally and figuratively.

This novel wins the way Fred wins: by surprise. Lulled by initial minute descriptions of Fred’s working-class Chicago neighborhood and familial squabbles—mainly about Fred’s failures—the beginning anticipates a grim, quotidian outcome. However, this attention to detail sets the stage for an unexpected twist. Having come from afar to finally meet Fred and seeing him up close with his friends and family, Mary Ellen questions his value to her. Fred is a product of his environment. He is who he is, as shown in the precise and unapologetic discursive text. His ample flesh and string of innocent mistakes earn their worth, though, as he expresses, through comic and romantic episodes, his love for her with the same acceptance he has for himself. She becomes wholeheartedly smitten with him.

The heartwarming transformation that transpires amidst antics drives the book toward a worthwhile conclusion. Fred’s friends provide comic relief as well as camaraderie. The pace is swift, with characters coming and going, playing tricks on one another, fighting and making up. Mary Ellen’s wrestling skills, at first a joke, serve a serious purpose for both her and Fred, as well as hint at its end. The gritty tone, set by a focus on physicality and verbal repartee, disarms, laying bare characters at their best and worst in equal measure. This is a tale that is not to be missed.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

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